Rouhani’s new Iran: carefully navigating Iran’s near neighbours, by Thomas Owen – Crisis Watch: Iran

The first day of 2014 saw snow fall in the Iranian capital Tehran, an apt

reflection of the cold reception that greeted news of the historic agreement

reached in Geneva on November 24th. As president Hassan Rouhani

celebrated his first one hundred days in office, a hundred days that were

perhaps more productive than that of US president Barak Obama’s, he still

faces an uphill struggle to convince his near neighbours that both he, and

Iran, are not to be feared.

This deal has brought about sudden turn of events that has seen the status

quo in the Middle East suddenly shift far faster than many leaders would

have liked, and while the developed world celebrated an apparent thawing in

diplomatic relations with Iran, the temperature that has settled over Tehran is

similar to the coolness Iran’s neighbours are treating them with.

Saudi Arabia and Israeli, two of the most unlikely bedfellows have

nevertheless crawled under the blanket of security, providing them, no

doubt, with the warming reassurance of alliance and mutual interest in

keeping an ascendent Iran in check. Rightly this has shivers running down

the spine of many in Washington, London, Brussels and Tehran, particularly

considering Israel is the region’s sole nuclear power and Saudi Arabia, it has

been rumoured, has had secret dealings with Pakistan that involve funding

Pakistan’s nuclear programme in exchange for rapid access to nuclear

weapons. If these rumours prove true, it could make Iran and Rouhani think

long and hard about their current dismissal of a nuclear weapons programme.

With this unease generated by Israel and Saudi Arabia, the war in Syria is

most certainly an unwanted distraction, with Iran heavily involved in

supporting and financing the Assad regime and various factions operating

within Syria’s borders such as Hezbollah. This support of groups identified

by the West as terrorist organisations is still a big stumbling block on the road

to reconciliation, particularly with countries like Israel.

The news isn’t all bad, as it was Oman, one of Britain’s strongest allies in

the Middle East, who originally brokered the first tentative meetings between

Iran and the USA. The Gulf States’ cooperation is high on the list of priorities

for Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as he said on his

Facebook Page that “Iran’s ties with the Persian Gulf littoral states will get

better day by day, and we will try to have these relations upgraded to the

highest level.” For their part the Gulf States are nervous of an ascendent Iran.

The US’s attempt at reconciliation, combined with its desire to be self

sufficient in its ability to access oil and natural gas put the Gulf States in a

tricky situation. Turki bin Faisal al Saud, member of the Saudi royal family

and former head of Saudi intelligence has warned that US-Iran relations

should galvanise the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf

(GCC) to form a “unit” that does more than cooperation on economic matters

and the price of oil. This sentiment was echoed by the Saudi deputy Foreign

Minister, Nizar Madani, who said “the Gulf states should no longer work

independently from one another to guarantee their security.” The GCC does

welcome a nuclear deal, as it diminished the threat of an Israeli-US military

strike on Iran. Being excluded from the negations however, was not

welcomed.

The real reason for the GCC’s unease, says Omar al Hassan, director of

the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies, is the potential for Iran to use its new

found peace with the West to forge a place as a Middle Eastern superpower

that would use its influence in Syria and Iraq to try to control the region. Al

Hassan reckons this is where the GCC should come together to counter any

power grabs Iran may have planned.

In all, the deal brokered on 24th of November will have a positive impact

on the regional dynamics of the Gulf. The GCC feel let down by America for

not intervening in Syria, and will likely grow closer as time goes on. Iran can

use this closeness to its advantage, by extending trade deals (which will be

limited given US and UN sanctions) to both the GCC, and to its existing

allies such as China and Russia. Syria will play a huge role in deciding the

balance of power in the region, and if the US continues to bring Iran in as a

powerful ally in the war against al-Qaeda and Sunni extremism, then Iran

could have the upper hand in securing influence in the future of Syria. The

relationship between Iran and her neighbours is complex, with mistrust

stretching back to the days of the Shah and Iran’s previous attempts at

becoming a regional superpower. As Spring comes to Iran and the snow

melts, it is likely that the thaw will continue in the relationship Iran has with

both its neighbours and the outside world.

The interim agreement: regional considerations, by Rafael Serrano – Crisis Watch: Iran

Beyond the issues surrounding the Iranian nuclear development program there is a larger struggle for regional power and influence. This struggle has pit traditional Gulf powers, led by Saudi Arabia, the Israelis, and the Iranians in a regional race for influence and leverage against one another. The divisions between these regional powers are influenced by deep political, cultural, and religious divisions. While the majority of the headlines and commentary have focused on the threats exchanged between the Israelis and Iranians, the Gulf States have also been actively and aggressively engaged in countering Iran at every opportunity. The recent international negotiations regarding Iran’s proposed nuclear weapons program have had a profound effect on the dynamic between the rivals with significant implications going forward.

There is an ongoing proxy war between the regional powers that could have serious impact of the possible success of any nuclear negotiations between Iran and major foreign powers. Understanding the significance of the proposed international deal to stem the Iranian nuclear weapons program requires an appreciation of the strategic environment. There is a broader and more complex strategic environment from within which the actions and counteractions regarding the Iranian nuclear development program are continuing to develop of which the nuclear issue is just one feature. This environment has a complex network of regional stakeholders and is significantly influenced by deep historical, cultural and religious dimensions. It is within landscape and through the prism of the regional geopolitical dynamic that the impact of any negotiations or actions must be analyzed.

The Saudis and Gulf States

The divisions between the Saudi and the Iranian regimes have the deepest and most complex origins and narratives in the region. These divisions have manifested themselves in a series of ongoing bloody sectarian battles throughout the region including in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. These proxy wars have been fought by patchwork network of extremist organizations and Islamist militants to counteract one another. Whereas, the Saudis have also previously been able to rely on their interest more succinctly aligning with those of the US, they have perceived this to increasingly not be the case. The Saudi’s have been increasingly critical of western positions, especially those of the US, on Syria and Iran. This has led to increased sectarian proxy wars carried out by sub-state and non-state actors leading to assassination attempts, bombings, and arming sectarian militias.

The Saudi’s were further rebuffed when their demands for a seat at P5+1 nuclear negotiation were rebuffed. The apparent Saudi loss of strategic ground in the power politics of the region has led to the creation of a new alliance with the Israelis. While the Saudis had previously expressed support for Israeli direct action against Iran, these sentiments were always shared with the US as the intermediary. However, this new alliance may be a move to ensure Saudi interests are promoted without a reliance on direct US involvement, especially as they pertain to Iran.

The Israelis

The Israelis have been very clear regarding their positions on political and security matters throughout the region, especially regarding the Iranian nuclear program. They have long reiterated their unwillingness to have any nuclear capacity in Iran and reserved their right to strike if necessary. As with the Saudis, the Israelis have also been publicly opposed to the ongoing negotiations with Iran and are increasingly critical of western involvement, or lack thereof, in the region. The Israeli stance has been challenged directly with Iranian demands for disarmament of all regional powers in negotiations which may explain the new Saudi-Israeli alliance.

The emergence of an alliance, even if just against Iran, could have serious implications for the region. As international negotiations with Iran have progressed the Israeli government has found itself increasingly on the outside. This Israeli security dilemma has been coupled with the increasing instability on its borders in Lebanon and Syria. Additionally, Israel has had to navigate a good but changing relationship with Turkey which has recently adopted a more hard-line stance on regional issues.

The Turkish

In recent years the geopolitical dynamic has been further complicated by the reemergence of Turkey as an active participant in the regional security and political affairs of the Middle East. The legacy of the Ottoman Empire provides Turkey with a powerful legitimizing narrative to support greater regional involvement. Turkey has launched into regional affairs with noticeably differing objectives which have put them at odds with Saudi and other Gulf States. In fact, the Turks have taken a far more aggressive and strategic approach to relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel. However

In the past year the Turkish government has taken actions in direct opposition to the interests of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The Turkish government expelled Saudi intelligence officials from Turkey and allegedly reported a number of Israeli intelligence assets in Turkey to Iranian officials, resulting in a significant loss to both countries. Moreover, Turkey has openly opposed Saudi positions in Egypt and Syria increasing tensions the two countries. These actions are in addition to Turkey’s more aggressive approaches towards Palestinian territories in Israel. Turkey’s relationship with Iran has been mixed but far better than that of Saudi and Israel. The significance of Turkey’s newfound position was best captured in the inclusion of President Erdogan in President Obama’s top five international leader friends; a list which excluded both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

The Strategic Implications

The international community has thus far largely failed to fully appreciate the complexities and nuances of the geopolitical dynamic in the region in negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal. The struggle for regional power and influence in the Middle East is an inescapable reality that has direct bearing over the ongoing nuclear negotiations. As such, there are several possible reactions to the P5+1 negotiation that western powers would be wise to monitor. First, if proxy warfare is allowed to escalate, groups like the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria could increase the threat of international terrorist in the region. Additionally, any unilateral actions on the part of Israel could potentially plunge the region in a far larger conflict.

In attempting to find a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue foreign powers should be wary of the implications to regional power balance. This is especially true since geopolitics in the region between the primary actors is often seen as a zero sum game. Moreover, while the reemergence of Turkey as a prominent geopolitical entity can possibly provide much needed balance, western powers should appreciate that all the regional powers will ultimately act according to its own strategic interests. In such a complex environment there is as much potential for negative outcomes as positive.

The interim agreement: unresolved issues, by Nick Wood – Crisis Watch: Iran

Whilst the interim agreement that was reached on the 24th November between the P5+1 and Iran saw embraces and smiles from the negotiating teams, the hard work is only just beginning. The 9th December saw negotiations commence once again in an attempt to agree upon the technical details not discussed in the 24th November agreement. The talks are taking place at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, a suitable location considering the key role the organisation will play in monitoring Iran’s compliance when the final agreement is implemented – possibly as early as January.

 

An agreement between Iranian nuclear officials and the IAEA on the 11th November saw Iran allow the UN nuclear watchdog access to both the Gachin uranium mine and the heavy water facility at Arak. The latter had been a particular sticking point after Iran refused to adhere to a UN Security Council Resolution demanding cessation of work related to heavy water projects in 2006, with Iran maintaining that it was under no legal obligation to halt activity. The one-day visit to the facility by a two-member IAEA team on 8th December signalled the first inspection since 2011. Whilst the Geneva interim agreement stated that Iran would make no further advances in its activities at the Arak reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announced to Iran’s Press TV, just five days after the agreement had been reached, that although ‘capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase…construction will continue there.’ It is varying interpretations of what the interim does and does not allow that must be clarified in the current technical negotiations. Claims, for example, that the nuclear agreement includes loopholes that could allow for the production of specific nuclear-related components off-site, suggest that certain aspects of the deal still need to be clarified.

 

Another controversial aspect of the Geneva interim agreement is the lack of reference made to the Parchin military complex. A report released by the IAEA in November 2011 announced that it had received information from member states that suggested Iran constructed a large explosives containment chamber in 2000 and had been carrying out subsequent testing, possibly associated with nuclear materials – a charge that Iran denies. Whilst the IAEA’s visits in 2005 uncovered nothing of relevance, the UN watchdog maintained that Iran had yet to ‘explain the rationale behind these activities.’ Though Iran has argued in the past that the military sensitivity of the complex means that detailed inspections are not appropriate, there are hopes amongst U.S officials that further negotiations might break the impasse that Parchin has historically presented and allow a deal to be struck that could eventually permit future access.

 

Perhaps a more pressing issue concerns the practicalities of the IAEA’s expansion of monitoring in order to observe Iranian compliance with a final deal. The organisation’s Director-General Yukiya Amano announced on Thursday 28th November that the monitoring of the Iranian deal would have ‘implications for funding and staffing’ that would require an increased budget. Around 10% of the IAEA’s annual inspections budget of €121m is already used to monitor the Iranian nuclear program. The interim agreement and its subsequent technical additions will vastly increase the IAEA’s workload, requiring extra support, funding and time.

 

The 24th November interim agreement was certainly a breakthrough for both Iran and the P5+1. Putting the words to paper took much time and effort, but their implementation will require even more determination. The technical negotiations must clarify what exactly constitutes compliance if questions over facilities such as Parchin or loopholes over Arak are to be effectively addressed. The P5+1, Iran and the IAEA all have a difficult time ahead of them – the success of any deal will be measured ‘in months and years, not minutes.’

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.

“Wargaming by the Rules: Two Days in the Life of NATO Legal Advisors” by Dr Aurel Sari

I have recently returned from RAF St Mawgan near Newquay in Cornwall, where I participated in the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps’ main exercise for this year, ARRCADE FUSION 2013. Running for a period of two weeks and involving over 2,000 military and civilian personnel, the exercise was designed to ensure that the ARRC maintains its operational readiness as part of the NATO Response Force.

 

As I knew from first-hand experience that Newquay gets a bit chilly at this time of the year, and having been advised to pack a ‘very warm’ sleeping bag, I arrived early in the morning kitted out like I was going on an Arctic expedition. It soon turned out that I erred on the side of caution by some margin, as the climate of the command and accommodation tents more closely resembled nearby Eden Project’s tropical biome than a windswept Cornish field in the middle of November.

 

Once I received my access pass and was given directions to the Brew Tent (serving coffee and tea, but bring your own mug), I was guided over to LEGAL—comprising two desks, four chairs, laptops and the legal advisors. And a supply of cookies and good humour.

 

This year, I specifically asked to be treated less as a visitor and more as another pair of hands on deck. Someone clearly got the message, as within the first five minutes of my arrival I was bombarded with about a dozen questions on a range of legal conundrums. Although the pace was not quite as relentless as I imagine it must be in real life operations, the questions kept rolling in at a steady rate throughout my two-day stay.

 

My participation in ARRCADE FUSION 2013 once again confirmed two important lessons. First, legal advisors deployed on operations must master a wide spectrum of international law. During the two days I spent with the ARRC, I was confronted with questions relating to the use of force, naval warfare, international refugee law, the law of neutrality, international human rights law, State responsibility, the classification of conflicts, various aspects of international humanitarian law, intelligence and the law of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Quite a mix, really. Second, bringing together practitioners and academics in a setting such as this one offers real rewards to both sides. To me, the constant stream of legal problems requiring a more or less instant solution provided a refreshingly practical perspective on the law, while I believe my hosts benefitted from my expertise and second opinion in a number of subject areas. They certainly made me write memos.

 

Overall, participating in ARRCADE FUSION 2013 was a thoroughly enjoyable experience both personally and professionally, something of a cross between attending Glastonbury (save the music) and going on an international law field trip.

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.