The path to an interim nuclear deal – by Mal Craghill, Crisis Watch: Iran

In the early hours of Sunday 24th November the foreign ministers of Iran and the “P5+1” group – China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and USA – agreed an interim Joint Plan of Action on solving the long crisis of Iran’s nuclear programme. The talks, led by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, had been significantly aided by secret Omani-brokered talks between Iran and the USA since Hassan Rouhani’s surprise election as President of Iran in June, as well as talks between Iran and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which had been taking place separately from the P5+1 talks. An earlier set of Geneva talks, which had seemed likely to result in a breakthrough, had broken up with no agreement on 9th November after France allegedly held out for a tougher interim settlement, much to the delight of the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Just two days later Iran reached agreement with the IAEA over access to the Arak nuclear reactor and the Gachin uranium mine, and on the same day the UK and Iran announced that they would be re-opening diplomatic relations – suspended after the British Embassy in Tehran was attacked in 2011 – with the exchange of non-resident charges d’affaires. On 17th November France’s President Hollande arrived in Israel for a previously scheduled visit and announced that France would continue to hold out against the easing of sanctions on Iran until it was convinced Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. It was against this backdrop – and the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on 19th November – that the Geneva talks re-convened. With expectations lowered following the previous round of talks, the talks were at “official” rather than ministerial level, and whilst they were underway Binyamin Netanyahu engaged in a frantic round of visits trying to forestall an agreement, including visiting Russian President Putin in Moscow on 20th November and meeting with John Kerry in Israel on 22nd November. This proved fruitless for Netanyahu, with good progress evident in Geneva as the P5+1 foreign ministers converged on Geneva on Saturday. Despite a long wrangle over the details of one or two points, a deal was eventually struck in the early hours of 24th November, with all sides claiming victory for their negotiating standpoints. But as the dust settles from Geneva, what does the agreement mean for Iran’s prospects over the next 6-12 months, and for the UK’s engagement with Iran? A series of blog posts from the Iran Crisis Watch group will investigate prospects for Iran over the coming months.

 

—————

 

The Prospects for Trade 

The Joint Plan of Action allowed for a limited easing of sanctions against Iran which may aid Iran’s ailing economy in limited ways. It puts a hold on efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales – which have dropped from around 2.5m barrels per day to 1m barrels per day – and allows Iran’s crude oil customers to maintain their current levels of supply. Sanctions on the automotive sector, petrochemicals and precious metal exports are suspended, and a channel is opened for humanitarian aid which will include food and agricultural products as well as medical and pharmaceutical supplies. The effect on trading partners has been surprisingly rapid, although the temporary nature of the current deal has led many to approach potential trade deals with caution.

 

One immediate beneficiary is likely to be India. Given its fragile relations with Pakistan, India has been involved in work to build a deep water port at Chabahar in Iran, which it views as an essential route for Indian trade into Iran and Central Asia. Illustrating the region’s difficult geopolitical situation, Chabahar would be in direct competition for international trade with the Chinese-financed Gwadar port, just 44 miles away in Pakistan. Iran has announced its intention to establish a free trade zone around the port, probably to attract lost trade back to the country; the port of Bandar Abbas is reportedly handling almost half of the trade now that it was two years ago. The announcement of the free trade zone already seems to be creating interest, with several Gulf States keen to invest. Japan also seems keen to rekindle trade with Iran, with talks having taken place in Tehran recently.

 

A number of opportunities arise for European trade with Iran, which will be highly beneficial for many stagnant European economies; EU exports to Iran are down 45% (3.4Bn euros) in the first 9 months of 2013 compared with the same period in 2011. France will be keen to re-kindle Peugeot and Renault’s previous exports to the Iranian automotive sector, although it remains to be seen whether their reported intransigence in Geneva will be held against them. Iran has also begun reaching out to oil companies that it would like to see re-entering the market, going as far as naming the companies it wants to do business with – including two from the USA, and Britain’s BP. Italian company Eni has been the first to show signs of interest, with its CEO meeting with Iran’s oil minister at the annual OPEC meeting in Vienna on 4th December. This sector is likely to be slow to develop, given the uncertainty over a long-term settlement and the poor terms under which Iran dealt with foreign oil companies in the past. An Austrian trade delegation visited Tehran in early December, reportedly focusing on infrastructure and manufacturing opportunities. Pakistan is also using the recent international developments to reinvigorate a stalled project to construct a gas pipeline from Iran into central Asia, despite opposition from the USA. Although Iran is keen to progress this project, their recent cancellation of finance for the Pakistan side of the pipeline reflects Rouhani’s pragmatism, showing a desire to fix Iran’s ailing economy structurally as well as through increased international trade.

 

Two UK companies stand to benefit immediately, thanks to the humanitarian sanctions relief. GlaxoSmithKlein and AstraZeneca have both maintained trade with Iran during the recent sanctions (reportedly $32.2m and $14m annually, respectively), and they can expect an immediate increase in sales of medicine and medical equipment. Beyond that there are no immediate reports of UK companies seeking new trade in Iran, but over the next 6 months – as work on a permanent agreement with Iran progresses – more interest is likely to be shown. According to the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce, opportunities are likely to lie in telecommunications and IT, joint manufacturing ventures (particularly in vehicle manufacturing), water and waste water projects and banking sector reform. The re-opening of diplomatic relations bodes well for potential future trade deals; Ajay Sharma, the UK charge d’affaires has already visited Tehran, and a reciprocal visit by his counterpart to London has just taken place. William Hague has made it clear that this will be a step-by-step process, rooted in demonstrable trust being developed, but the early signs are promising.

 

There are likely to be some negative aspects to the recent deal as well. With many GCC States believing, at least privately, that steps towards normalisation of Iran’s relations with the outside world will upset the balance of power in the region, it is possible that they will seek to scale down trade with members of the P5+1 group in retaliation. However, a more unexpected result may be to kill off some arms trades in the region. It already seems likely that the UAE will either postpone or cancel a potential Eurofighter Typhoon buy from the UK, citing fears over destabilising the region militarily and with one eye on seeking increased trade with Iran themselves. Oman even went as far as standing in opposition to the other 5 GCC members recently when they called for deepening the partnership into a military alliance. Oman has a strong trading history with Iran, and does not want to harm future relations by joining a potentially threatening regional alliance. For the UK, the real trade benefits will come with the agreement of a permanent settlement to Iran’s nuclear programme, and may necessitate a change of approach to the region, treating the Arab GCC states as individuals rather than as a homogenous bloc.

Andrew Rathmell’s View – Libya: How to build a stateless state?

Two years after the death of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s transition is not going well.  The headlines  tell a depressing story: the Prime Minister (briefly) kidnapped by his own security services; daily assassinations, bombings and robberies; militias and secessionists in the east blockading oil facilities; and the General National Congress (parliament) in disarray.  In the coffee shops and dilapidated government offices where the Tripolitanian middle classes and government officials gather, there is talk of stasis and disappointed expectations.

None of these travails are surprising in the context of a bloody transition from a long-entrenched dictatorship.  For a successful transition, Libya needs to work towards an internal political settlement that balances the interests of its different regions, and to build state structures that are able to enforce the rule of law and administer the economy in a way that serves the wider population rather than, as under Qaddafi, selected elites.

The International Community is responding to this challenge creditably, with the UN, World Bank, EU, US and numerous individual countries rushing to offer assistance.  Keen to see a stable Libya emerge which can get oil production back on track, control its porous borders and crack down on homegrown jihadists, they are providing a range of technical assistance to the Libyan security sector and civil service.  By building up these government institutions in the context of a constitutional process, goes the logic, a duly elected Libyan government will be able to get a grip on the country.  It seems “obvious” that, in a country with a small population, abundant oil wealth, and a lack of deep sectarian or ethnic divisions, this standard statebuilding formula should work.

However, there is a contradiction at the heart of the Libyan state-building project.  Unlike many of its neighbours, modern Libya has deliberately tried not to build a state.  While Libya appears to have the trappings of modern statehood (ministries, flags, airlines, security forces), at the deeper conceptual level, the country has eschewed real state-building.  This was most explicit during Qaddafi’s rule when he put in place a system of “permanent revolution” and deliberately undermined state institutions. But even under the monarchy, the regime only constructed the façade of statehood.  The central administrative and coercive institutions were built purely to protect a narrow elite rather than to support a wider programme of state-building.

Historians have argued that this aversion to statebuilding derives in part from Libya’s disastrous experience with modern statehood under the brutal Italian occupation and in part from the relatively recent and rapid process of urbanisation.  Whatever the cause, the Libyan predeliction for “stateless statebuilding” means that an overly simplistic approach of transferring international skills, equipment and organisational structures is unlikely to succeed.

Libya’s international allies will need to avoid the all too common tendency to import templates from other jurisdictions and Libya’s leaders will need to recognise that they cannot “buy” a modern state overnight.  They will need to focus as much effort on the essentially political tasks of linking state structures to the population as on the technical tasks of bolstering government institutions.  It will be a fascinating, if fraught, journey.

For a recent update, see David Hammond’s blog at: http://9bri.com/human-rights-in-libya-interview-and-comment-on-the-deaths-in-tripoli-from-the-national-council-for-civil-liberties-and-human-rights/

 

Grand Challenges, ‘Resetting the UK National Security Agenda’ Government response to open letter

From the National Security Adviser

 

15 July 2013

Lieutenant General (Retd) Sir Paul Newton KBE

Professor of Security and Strategy

Director, Strategy and Security Institute

Dr Danny Steed

Lecturer in Strategy and Defence

Strategy and Security Institute

Dear Sir Paul and Dr Steed

The Prime Minister was grateful for your letter of 17 June, and the interesting analysis it contained of the UK’s National Security Strategy.  The Prime Minister has asked me to reply.

We are preparing for a review of the National Security Strategy in 2014-15.  In the light of this, and without agreeing with every word, it was timely and valuable to have this input from your students on the current text.  They made some useful points about the handling of cyber threats, terrorism, and inter-state military crises, and about Britain’s future role in the world.  I’ve passed the letter to the team who will be responsible for preparing the next version of the Strategy.

With my best wishes.

 

KIM DARROCH

Grand Challenges, ‘Resetting the UK National Security Agenda’ open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron

Monday, 17 June 2013

Dear Prime Minister,

We are students participating in the University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges programme. Our inquiry group, titled ‘Resetting the UK National Security Agenda’, is charged with assessing Britain’s National Security Strategy and considering how those aspects labelled “Tier One” might better serve the nation’s security agenda.

Cyber attacks

We believe that this is the area of the NSS with the most expansive potential. Malicious activity in cyberspace is a transnational issue and, indeed, we contend that it should also be considered a human security issue.

We therefore agree that cyber threats do qualify for Tier 1 status. As it currently exists, however, the cyber section of the NSS also demonstrates significant misunderstanding of the issue. We believe that a clearer definition of what constitutes a cyber threat is needed; currently there is not enough technical articulation of the threat with which to educate the British public.

Cyberspace is an arena of both state-perpetrated attacks and of widespread criminal activity. While GCHQ focuses primarily on the former, it is in fact the latter which has the greatest effect on British nationals and companies. We must also remember that cyber attacks are perpetrated by real world actors; where legislation can impact the problem we must ensure that such provisions are in place, both internationally and domestically.

We fundamentally dispute the idea that Britain’s primary objective should be to secure the country for business purposes, as is stipulated in the Cyber Security Strategy. We believe instead that the importance of educating citizens and developing computer talent should be the primary objective in Britain’s cyber efforts. The objective should be for the British population to become the most secure, educated, and aware users of cyberspace in the world, which would in turn enhance online business security. Education forms part of our proactive defence, as does the recruiting of the most skilled British individuals to work toward solutions.

Terrorism

We unanimously agree that terrorism represents a Tier 1 threat. We believe, however, that it overly dominates our foreign security policy. While our relationships with international partners are important, the NSS is, in the end, a national security document. Terrorism should thus hold priority only to the extent that it poses a threat to Britain and its interests. Foreign policy should react to terrorism, not be dictated by it.

To present an effective strategy, the NSS should reflect the ways in which our international political and military actions can not only catalyse, but also precipitate, domestic tensions. It should thus put more focus on non-militaristic, soft-power approaches and encourage more holistic policies. Prior to military solutions, we must use all of our available assets such as NGOs, foreign aid bodies, and avenues of economic integration to address the underlying causes of terrorism.

The almost exclusive focus on Al-Qaeda, while politically expedient, contributes to a public misunderstanding of the nature of this complex threat. Rhetoric such as that within the PREVENT strategy has the unintended effect of marking huge societal groups as outsiders and actively contributes to factionalism within our society. The terminology used to describe terrorist actions must be consistently applied, whatever the identities or affiliations of the perpetrators. Using the lessons learned from Northern Ireland, we should differentiate between terrorist actors and the populations that they claim to represent in order to diminish the societal divides exemplified and exploited by the terrorist groups.

Conversely, the term ‘Lone Terrorists’ also implies a misinterpretation of the threat. The NSS should differentiate between true independent actors, whose motives lie in the psychology of the individual, and members of connected groups. We bestow upon terror groups undue power when we label lone criminals with the same moniker as internationally linked domestic terrorists. We should tackle such incidents for what they are – acts of criminality.

Interstate military crisis

This was the most divisive issue in our inquiry because we believe there is a tension in the ambiguous wording of the NSS document. It is not clear what ‘drawing in the UK’ actually means; there is a clear divide in our inquiry for the need to either specify this phrase or retain its inherent ambiguity. Many of us see the existing ambiguity as a potential problem, while others also view it as potentially advantageous in the event of an unforeseen crisis.

For our NSS to more accurately reflect the nature of our options, we recommend that direct threats to the nation be differentiated from crises that pose threats to our national values. Thus, we propose the current Tier 1 threat should be split into two different threats, one to be kept in Tier 1 and one to be moved to Tier 2.

Tier 1: Conflicts in which Britain would be de jure implicated from their outset: attacks on us or our allies by foreign powers, imminent issues of international security, large threats to international stability.

Tier 2: Conflicts in which our involvement would be a matter of real choice, however difficult that choice might be: humanitarian crises, combatting arms proliferation, foreign internal peacekeeping efforts. These decisions should be directed both by a commitment to the values in which our country believes and a realistic assessment of their potential economic and international impact and, indeed, of our available military resources.

Our proposed change to the tier system would, we hope, reflect the real limits on the finite nature of our economic and military resources, the allocation of which is a fundamental purpose of the NSS.

Britain’s role in the world

We believe that the NSS is based upon an underlying assumption – that Britain should exercise an influential global role. This assumption appears to be entrenched in the attitude and policy making of the British Government.

It has therefore been expressed as a concern in our inquiry group that such an important assumption remains unchallenged; while it is clear that in the short-term Britain will exercise an influential global role, in the long-term it would be beneficial for Britain to institute a regular debate seeking to define Britain’s expected role in global affairs.

While we do not dispute the notion of Britain playing a global role at this time, it is our contention that Britain must not take decisions based on an assumption that such a global role is there by default. Instead, the British Government should take active, open, and public measures to regularly define exactly what our role in the world should be.

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Charlton

Stephane Chui

Alastair Cole

Conrad Deverell

Ryan Hopkins

Matthew Morley

Kiah Shabka

Thomas Owen

Charles Tolley

Nick White

Reflections of an Intern: My experience in SSI, by Lara Salzer-Levi

Having spent two months interning at the Strategy and Security Institute (SSI) of the University of Exeter (UoE), saying that I have learnt a lot would be an immense understatement. During my time there, I had the unique opportunity to work alongside Dr Danny Steed, Lecturer in Strategy and Defence, who, having recently arrived to Exeter himself was more than enthusiastic to have me on board and give me the opportunity to get a lot more involved than I originally expected.

But before revealing the inner workings of the department, a quick word about SSI for those who don’t know what it is. The Strategy and Security Institute is a brand new department, set to change the University of Exeter’s student perceptions of strategy and security in today’s world, in effect applying theory to practice. With the ever changing balance in today’s political arena, I would argue that it is a perfect time to have a department which, through simulations and innovative teaching methods available for students of all divisions and age groups, effectively applies the political theory learnt throughout one’s degree to strategy in real life situations.  Come September 2013, the Institute will be fully operational with a Master’s course in Strategy and frequent simulations for those wishing to test their abilities to strategize.

Upon arrival to SSI for my first day as an Intern, I was more than intimidated knowing that the Institute I was about to involve myself with was home to people having experience in unique fields, with CVs that would intimidate even the most well-read PhD and with a profound military presence throughout the Institute. So as a second year student with no real work experience in politics as such, I was determined not to be overwhelmed. To my great surprise the atmosphere in the Institute was relaxed and welcoming, but having talked to Dr Steed before my arrival, I knew that beyond my initial impressions, my time there would involve a lot of challenging work, thinking outside the box, and hair pulling dilemmas.

And so, I was introduced to the ideas behind the simulations I would be helping Dr Steed in bringing to life and with the help of a big map we started brainstorming and plotting. I was trusted enough to be given the opportunity to get heavily involved in planning one such simulation based in Libya. The students participating were split into three teams and spread across three different locations throughout the University (immersing the participants in the way conferences are held during real life crises) and for the first time since starting my degree, I was able to apply what I had spent so much time learning in a classroom to a life-like situation. A situation which, were it to actually occur would be a tough challenge even for senior politicians and civil servants. Despite the simulation only lasting an afternoon, the preparation of it took much longer. Months longer.  What started as a dot on a map became an identification of a reoccurring crisis, which then became the involvement of third parties and finally, the creation of documents, podcasts and media packages to support the simulation before it was presented to the students. Planning the simulation not only challenged the knowledge I had already learnt in my studies but was also very fulfilling in watching our ideas match the development of events on the news, and the stress on the students faces as they argued over the best solution.  Having carried out three simulations already this year, and having hosted a multitude of high ranking officials to talk to the students, SSI has already made a prominent name for itself among the student body at Exeter.

But what an average student does not hear about however, are the perks of the job. I had the unique and incredibly eye opening opportunity of attending closed seminars with people including Jon Day, the Chairman of the JIC; a working lunch with former Secretary of State for Defence Bob Ainsworth; and an academic trip to the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre Lympstone. This as well as the treat of meeting individuals such as Dr Stephanie Blair, Andrew Rathmell, Major General Jerry Thomas, Professor Mike Clarke and Robert Fox.

However, it has to be said that without the presence of the SSI’s “driving force” none of the high-tech, lifelike and challenging activities I and other students at the University have participated in, would be as successful as I (as a student at the University) deem them to be.  Firstly, the Director of SSI, General Sir Paul Newton, is a man whose reputation and experience precedes him.  Katherine Felstead and Roo Haywood-Smith are the women who comprise the administrative driving force behind the immaculate executions of SSI appointments. Professor Paul Cornish, a man I did not get to see much yet found his work throughout all key areas of SSI, and Dr Steed, my supervisor and ‘problem solver’ in SSI, have been working towards setting up the new Master’s programme, the MA in Applied Security Strategy.  Along with recently joined Dr Catarina Thomson and Dr Sergio Catignani, the four of them will be leading modules on the Masters course come September.

My final two weeks with SSI consisted of my assisting in the smooth running of the SSI’s Grand Challenges dilemma. The Grand Challenges programme is newly established for first year students, following the completion of the student’s third academic term and exams. The university offers first year students to choose between a range of twelve day long dilemmas including the SSI dilemma  titled ‘Resetting the UK’s National Security Strategy’ which is currently due for re-assessment in 2015. The students were tasked with exploring what the UK currently deems a Tier 1 threat, and discussing whether, with the pending re-assessment of the document, the classification of some of the current Tier 1 threats should be altered. The students proved to be very hard working and fervent on the issue at hand, along with providing full engagement with Sir Paul Newton’s invited guest speakers, asking them very difficult and high quality questions, the answers of which they later considered when addressing issues within the dilemma. As a result, with the help of the supporting members of staff lead by Dr Steed, the students wrote a letter – which has already been sent to the Prime Minister – explaining the student’s desire to alter certain Tier 1 threats and terminology within the document in accordance to, for example, the development of technology i.e. the emergence and awareness of expanded cyber security threats since the document was written.

On a more personal note, my involvement in Grand Challenges was more on the administrative side, making sure the programme ran on time and aiding the Institute in any way I could, however, upon being invited to participate in certain activities throughout the two weeks, I can honestly say that even though I am not a first year student, I was impressed with the level of the discussion on behalf of the students, along with the quality of the talks and level of input the guest speakers provided.

Overall, I feel privileged in saying that I have had a wonderful experience working in SSI and as Dr Steed would rightly say, it is a department that makes the impossible, possible. There was never of moment of lull within the office, and the small pieces of knowledge and tricks I have picked up along the way are both priceless and incomparable. So, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone in SSI for welcoming me and giving me such a fantastic opportunity. I shall definitely be attending all further programmes and simulations the Institute organises; a great experience for those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to attend one.

Participating in Grand Challenges, A Student’s Perspective II, by Kiah Shabka

Following our exams in June, Exeter University ran a project called Grand Challenges. After two weeks of lounging about on Exmouth beach, I felt that it was time to do something a little more productive so I signed up to be part of the project. The inquiry group I took part in looked into Re-setting the UK National Security Strategy, focusing primarily on issues classified as Tier One threats: terrorism, interstate conflict and cyber security. In this post, I hope to provide an insight into the work we did during Grand Challenges by discussing some of the activities we undertook and the outputs we produced.

 

The first activity we took part in focused on interstate conflict and, being ever-present in the news, we were asked to look at Syria through an activity called Red Teaming. At the start of the session I thought that I knew my feelings towards Syria, however Sir Paul wanted us to do a deeper analysis of the situation and introduced us to a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Through the SWOT analysis, we began to look at the situation in a completely different way and it became clear to me that my previous views on Syria were far too simplistic for such a complex scenario. We were split into groups and together formulated a plan of action which we then presented back to the other groups. Luckily my group were broadly in agreement over how we should prioritise the issues that we had identified during the SWOT analysis, and we quickly decided that intervention was simply not an option. Even humanitarian intervention carried far greater risk than reward. As this was a Red Team activity, each presentation was followed by a harsh critique from other groups, and surprisingly each team had decided on a different plan on action. This really demonstrated to me that there was no right answer and that if you put an idea forward, you really had to be willing to defend it tooth and nail among both peers and experts.

 

One of our key outputs was an open letter to the Prime Minister in which we critiqued the UK’s National Security Strategy (NSS) in terms of its approach to terrorism, interstate war and cyber security. This was an interesting task because, unlike the Red Team activity, we were forced to agree on how the next NSS (to be published in 2015) should be improved. We began by discussing terrorism which turned out to be relatively simple as we all agreed that the main flaw in that section of the NSS was the focus on ‘Islamic terrorism’. By solely focusing on Islamic terrorism, we felt that the NSS ran the risk of exacerbating the isolation often felt by vulnerable societal groups, which can actually contribute rather than prevent home-grown terrorism and radicalisation.

 

When we moved on to interstate conflict, however, the task became significantly harder. Whilst we all recognised that the wording of the NSS was vague, there was a fifty-fifty split in our group as to whether this was good or bad. Our solution to the group divide was simply to sit in a room for forty minutes and thrash out our dispute and, after a heated debate, we concluded that clarification was necessary for the sake of any future NSS. We proposed that the threat should be divided in two, with one to remain in Tier One and the other to be lowered to Tier Two status. Remaining in Tier One should be situations in which the UK is de jure implicated from the start, and demoted to Tier Two would be situations where Britain is not obliged to intervene, regardless of the amount of pressure being put on us. I really enjoyed being able to argue my views with fellow students and felt that it was incredibly refreshing to be able to decide amongst ourselves which direction we should be taking in our letter.

 

Finally we discussed the approach taken in the NSS to cyber warfare. Once again we were all in agreement that the document, and subsequent actions based on this document, showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of cyber security. Currently over sixty per cent of the cyber budget is sent to GCHQ and we felt that this completely overlooks the personal level of cyber security. Over eighty per cent of UK households have internet access, with this number rising significantly every year; in a world where your personal device can be hacked and used in a DDoS attack against a business or even one’s own government, all without your knowledge, we should be ensuring that citizens have the knowledge necessary to protect themselves from attack. We decided that investment in education should be the key message of the NSS; computer programming should be taught in every school just as other languages are, and we should be aiming to make British citizens the most secure users of cyberspace, whilst producing world-class programmers to protect our national interest.

 

The letter to the Prime Minister was one of the most exciting outputs we created because it has the potential to generate tangible impact. We have now received confirmation that our letter to the Prime Minister has been received, read, and will be passed onto the team who will create the 2015 NSS. I am very much looking forward to its publication as it will be interesting to see whether our critique has actually been listened to and acted upon.

 

In addition to the letter to the Prime Minister, we created a series of podcasts on the topics previously discussed. I was interviewed by one of the lecturers working with us, Dr Danny Steed, about my opinions on cyber warfare and why I thought it was so important to national security. It was a great experience to be able to openly discuss cyber security, a topic I find very interesting, and these podcasts should be available on the SSI website shortly.  The final outputs we produced were two presentations: one pitching our group’s findings to the media and the other presenting them to the other Grand Challenges groups. A team member and I created and presented the second presentation, summarising our task and findings. As well as the three key threats, we also discussed Britain’s role in the world and how our legislation in response to the aforementioned threats reflect where we see ourselves on the world stage. Personally I found this task very enjoyable and interesting and I hope that the people watching felt equally as interested.

 

Grand Challenges proved to be an incredibly interesting and informative two weeks and I can honestly say that the experience has sparked new interests and made me rethink future career paths. I would like to thank everyone involved in Grand Challenges and, in particular, those who helped create and run the programme. Sir Paul Newton, Dr Danny Steed, Ryan Patterson and Atienza Saldaña – thank you.

Participating in Grand Challenges: A Student’s Perspective, by Ryan Hopkins

Encouraging a student out of bed for a 9am start, the week after exams have finished and for one of those dreaded “extra-curricular” activities, is by no means an easy task. Yet when the morning of June 3rd arrived, and the University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges (GC) programme kicked off, there I was, (mostly) bright-eyed and eager to go.

 

Some months earlier I had decided the join the GC inquiry group run by the University’s new Strategy and Security Institute, entitled “Re-setting the UK National Security Agenda”. SSI had grabbed our attention early – inviting us all to attend a lecture by the former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6), Sir John Scarlett. This was quickly followed by an intimate, closed seminar with the current head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), Mr. Jon Day. The SSI had thrown two huge actors in the world of strategy and security at us, and promised more of the same to come during the GC programme. This, I deemed, was worth getting out of bed for on June 3rd.

 

At the core of our inquiry group was an investigation into a document imaginatively entitled the UK National Security Strategy (NSS). This, as one can probably guess, set out the main national security threats faced by the UK, and the Coalition Government’s proposed responses to them. It was to be the purpose of our group – under the guidance of SSI’s Director, Sir Paul Newton, and Lecturer of Strategy and Defence, Dr Danny Steed – to examine this document, in order to assess whether or not we deemed the threats presented in it to be realistic dangers to the UK, to examine the Government’s understanding of these threats, and to judge whether or not the proposed responses and classifications were fit for purpose. Essentially, we were tasked with the question, “Is the NSS up to scratch, or does it need to be re-set?” By the end of the programme, we were expected to have written an open letter to the Prime Minister, recorded podcasts, and have presented to our peers participating in other GC groups, with our findings and recommendations for the next NSS – due to be published in 2015.

 

In order to allow us to do this, the SSI facilitated a huge range of external speakers – all more than living up to the exceptionally high standard that had been set previously by Sir John Scarlett and Jon Day. The idea was to expose us students to a broad selection of experts in the field of strategy and security policy, in order to allow us to see how strategy was applied in the real-world, away from academic debate and examination, which, in turn, would aid us in our quest to assess the utility of the NSS. I must confess, however, that in some sessions I simply forgot the purpose of the inquiry group, as I became caught up by some fascinating talks. Each of the “real people” (always a novelty, within a university) presented to us held captivating jobs and could speak of incredible experiences, all of which they were willing to share with a small inquiry group of around 15 people.

 

A particular highlight for me from the GC speaker set was a visit by the former Director of the National Security Secretariat at the Cabinet Office, Mr. William Nye. Mr. Nye also currently holds the position of Principle Private Secretary to HRH The Prince of Wales, so commands much respect. This session in particular stands out for me, because after giving a short talk on the NSS (which he was responsible for commissioning), Mr. Nye sat down in amongst the students, and took questions. Somewhat controversially, given his position as a lifelong expert in the field of UK National Security, I found myself disagreeing with some of what Mr. Nye had said. In most academic circumstances, disagreeing with the expert doesn’t really get you very far – it’s often a case of fair enough if you disagree, but please be quiet and just get on with it. Not so on this occasion. Mr. Nye gave me the chance to thrash out my own argument – contrary to his. He responded and asked for my opinion in return, he corrected me when some of my points were incorrect, and he gave me the chance to debate back.  Deliberating real UK National Security Policy, with a real National Security expert, gave me an insight that no lecture or conventional seminar could ever have provided. By placing students into small, closed sessions with practitioners who were willing to engage in debate and discussion, the SSI and GC programme went beyond the realms of traditional university learning, and in turn, allowed us to hone and perfect our own views and arguments.

 

And it is this aspect, fundamentally, that gave the inaugural Grand Challenges that added extra; that engaged students, that kept us coming back day after day for the two week programme, and which, if continued, will allow GC to grow and expand in future years. The Strategy and Security Institute realized and embraced this, and went above and beyond in providing activities and speakers far-removed from traditional academia. I have focused primarily on the range of speakers that were hosted, but of course, the SSI’s inquiry group went beyond that, and pushed the boundaries of teaching methods by engaging us in activities that were far-removed from the humdrum of the average lecture theatre. It was this combination of expertise, stimulating debate, and engaging activity that gave the SSI the edge in facilitating this programme. And from a student’s point of view, well, it was worth getting out of bed for.

 

On behalf of all of the students who took part in the “Re-setting the UK National Security Agenda” inquiry group, may I extend the warmest thanks and congratulations to Sir Paul, Danny, Ryan, and Atienza, for hosting a truly engaging, innovative, and successful programme.

 

Paul Newton says aid is ‘critical to the UK’s national interests’

In an era of austerity there are hard choices to be made: government departments fight hard to preserve their resources, for strategy without the ‘means’ to implement it is facile wishful thinking. In such times – and given the fact that institutional memory is short – it is easy to lose sight of where our experience provides a clear lesson. 

Paul Newton, Director of SSI, and a number of other recently retired senior military officers have sent an open letter to the Prime Minister arguing that UK’s aid budget should not be cut. Properly focused development assistance – when combined with appropriate security – can lay a firm foundation for stability in fragile states. Sierra Leone is a case where those levers of UK’s National power and influence were properly synchronised and brought to bear over the long-term; and this use of ‘smart power’ has demonstrably improved the lot not just of the State but of ordinary people across the Country. 

Read the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2013/jun/23/letters-military-cuts