The Case Of Switzerland (Part I): Defining Neutrality

Switzerland is among the most prominent neutral states in the world, while it is at the same time being important in international politics and security. It can guarantee its own national security through a policy of ‘armed neutrality’. This is not a recent phenomenon and history testifies about the role that Swiss mercenaries played in European politics in the last 500 years[1]. These men were valued for their skills and their determined mass attack in the Late Medieval times, to the point of being hired and appreciated by the European Powers and consequently taking part in many important conflicts from the 13th to the 19th century[2]. It was only in 1848 when mercenary units were banned by the Swiss Constitution (Künzi, 2011).

(Armed) Neutrality

Switzerland declared a policy of armed neutrality in the Federal Agreement of 1815 which was enhanced upon in the 1848 Constitution[3]. This policy means that Switzerland cannot join any military alliance except in cases of direct attack, nor  take part in any international conflict or allow transit to foreign forces. The ‘armed’ part of the policy provides the very particular way of Swiss neutrality and enforces the upkeep of defence capacities at a respectable level, thus making military service compulsory for male citizens. An essential part of this armed neutrality policy is the army, which is a non-career militia, and where soldiers are required to take part in trainings every year while carrying their guns even to their homes. In addition, the proliferation of sport shooting in every region of the country and regardless of gender as well as the countries’ national political culture and the idea of resisting any foreign invasion, are organic elements of the armed neutrality policy (Swissinfo, 2014; Dreyer & Dresse, 2014).

The roots of Swiss neutrality come, however, from the same times during which Swiss mercenaries were initially hired. First, the battle of Marignano in 1515 marked the end of Swiss mercenary supremacy by the hands of German mercenaries, setting the basis for the Swiss sort of ‘isolationism’ and the first neutrality policy[4]. Secondly, the Thirty Years’ War made the Congregation of the Swiss citiy of Wil to create in 1647 a federal army to secure (and implement) the earlier policy of neutrality. This early policy comes to an end when France invades the country in 1798 and makes the country a battlefield for the control of strategic passes. Swiss soldiers also took part in some campaigns of Napoleon until 1815, where Swiss soldiers fought against French troops (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004).

Swiss neutrality in a deeper sense, comes from the desire of keeping internal cohesion, given the fact that Switzerland has different cultures, religions and languages, and by avoiding taking part actively (and openly) in any international conflict, integrity was effectively kept (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004) by avoiding involvements in international conflicts and thus the disenfranchisement of parts of its population affected by them. It also serves to keep business relations with both parties, to keep the European Geopolitical balance, and to provide a space for mediation and negotiation (Panchaud, 2009).

The World Wars and the Cold War

The Swiss policy of neutrality came to an intense test one century after its proclamation in 1815. The First World War takes places but Switzerland was spared thanks to an effective deterrence – or conviction by potential attackers that an outflank manoeuvre would not be tolerated – of neutrality policy. The borders were respected although defensive fortifications were made in Hauenstein and Mount Vully to assure territorial integrity (and neutrality), along with a general mobilization after the outbreak of the war and the occupation of fortresses near the St. Gothard Pass and St. Moritz. The geography of the country’s border played their part in securing neutrality as well as the value of intelligence activities in the country (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004; Whitmarsh, 2014; Dong-Yoon, 2008)[5].

The Second World War was then a second test for Switzerland’s armed neutrality, and before its outbreak Switzerland had modernized the army while at the same time withdrawing from the League of Nations, an attitude reinforced by the annexation of Austria in 1938. Like 1914, a general mobilization was implemented and extremist parties were banned to prevent unrest. Sargans and St. Maurice fortresses were reinforced and plans for a guerrilla warfare were prepared should a joint German-Italian invasion take place. During this war in particular, the international institutions (like the Red Cross) played an important role in providing protection to civilians in belligerent countries, safeguarding their properties, caring for prisoners of war and even aiding some refugees escaping from the Holocaust. Stranded pilots and interned Polish soldiers were repatriated. During the war, some Allied planes bombarded the borderlines territory with no major effects and trade was implemented with some degrees throughout the war with both sides, especially as regards to armaments (Dong-Yoon, 2008; Gayer, 2013).

Switzerland’s neutrality was, however, in peril due to  German plans to invade the country in 1940. However, the deterrence provided by the armed neutrality policy, along with the possible destruction of train routes passing the Simplon and Gotthard passes and the cost that the occupation could have meant, made Germany discard any plans for invasion (Gayer, 2013).

The third and last important test for Swiss neutrality thus far was the Cold War. During this period Switzerland was closer to the West, although did not join the United Nations and the European integration process, remaining a place for diplomatic approaches and humanitarian aid provision, as well as effectively monitoring the Demarcation Line in Korea after the Korea War. The general principle was labelled “Neutrality and solidarity” (Swissinfo, 2014; Dreyer & Dresse, 2014). Nevertheless, the fears for nuclear annihilation and Soviet invasion were deeply rooted in the country, leading to the construction of bunkers and shelters from the second half of the 1960’s onwards, capable of sheltering 100% of the population. Even the Swiss Armed Forces developed (and mostly uses) bunkers for defence purposes and even to disguise its air force in underground facilities, which was very important during the mentioned period (Mariani, 2009; MigFlug, 2014).

This period was also characterized by a deepening of ties with the United States, although they later recognized the effective deterrence and strong anticommunism in the nation as enough elements for the country to defend itself, aided by the Austrian declaration of neutrality in 1955. Additionally, Soviet attempts to promote a neutralist attitude or reinforce it among the traditional neutral states, in order to undermine NATO, put Switzerland’s independence on the US agenda. Switzerland joined the Plan Marshal in 1947 and implemented agreements on restricting certain products’ export to the Soviet Union. Also, Switzerland enjoyed close military relations with both the United Kingdom and (later on) the United States through the Mutual Defence Assistance Act, to the point of establishing operational agreements with NATO should a Soviet invasion take place, bounded in secrecy. Similarly, Switzerland considered during the 1950s the option of having its own arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons (Rickli, 2004).

Despite its size and the fact that it does not have the  military power comparable the Great Powers, Switzerland has imprinted its international strategic importance, contributing to the outcome of past wars and even to the European equilibrium through its armed neutrality policy. The role of the armed neutrality after the Cold War and in the 21st century will be analyzed in the second part of this article. It will center on the question of Swiss armed neutrality as an important element to Swiss foreign policy and global geopolitics in the future. It will take into consideration the chances and challenges the country will most likely face in the foreseeable future as well as the ability of Switzerland to contribute to international politics and security.



Dong-Yoong, K. (2008). Swiss Neutrality 1870 – 1871, 1914 – 1918, 1939 – 1945. Korean Minjok Leadership Academy International Program. Retrieved from:

Dreyer, J., &. Dresse, N. G. (2014). Swiss Neutrality Examined: Model, Exception, or Both? Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 15, 3, 60 – 83.

Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports. (2004). Swiss Neutrality (Brochure, 4th Edition). Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport. Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Gayer, G. (2013). 8. Switzerland. Political Neutrality in Europe during World War II. (Senior Project). San Luis Obispo: California Polytechnic State University, pp. 18-21. Retrieved from:

Künzi, R. (2011). Mercenary trade paid for prosperity and prosperity. Retrieved from:

Mariani, D. (2009). Bunkers for All. Retrieved from:

MigFlug (2014). The Hidden Air Force. Retrieved from:

Panchaud, V. (2009). Neutrality of Switzerland: A brief Introduction. Western Balkans Security Observer, 15, 107-118.

Rickly, J. M. (2004). The Western Influence on Swedish and Swiss Policies of Armed Neutrality during the Early Cold War. Europe: Interactions globales – Global Interactions, 117 – 134. Geneva, Switzerland: Global Studies Institute. (2014). Armed neutrality. Retrieved from:

Whitmarsh, A. (2014). August 1914: the outbreak of the war. Switzerland and the First World War. Retrieved from:


[1] The Swiss mercenaries also contributed to shape the identity of the country and even its existence and wealth, given the importance of it as a supplier of soldiers that were, in turn, bringing money into the country. See: Künzi (2011) Mercenary trade paid for peace and prosperity. Retrieved from:

[2] 1.5 million Swiss-men took place in those conflicts in total, according to Künzi (2011).

[3] The abolition of mercenary service was a step on this regard.

[4] Despite this early policy, Swiss mercenaries continued their services in foreign armies.

[5] Neutrality saw one real peril, however, and it came from the very inside: the sympathies held by the different linguistic communities towards some belligerents. See:

The Case Of Switzerland (Part II): Defining Neutrality

In the previous part, the history and essence of the Swiss neutrality policy was reviewed, along with moments in which the integrity of the country was at stake, leading to the implementation of neutrality, providing Switzerland with a very useful framework for its own defence. It is also very clear that the policy of Neutrality transformed itself from being a mere policy to an organic element of the Swiss society, eager to keep the country’s unity, independence and freedom. In the 21st century and following the end of the Cold War, a policy of neutrality could – apparently – be  an outdated one, or a policy that would imply that a country would simply just turn its back to the world’s problems and needs.

Revisiting Neutrality

In fact, the policy of neutrality has not meant that Switzerland would turn its back to the world’s afflictions, the country has even taken some steps towards international integration. The Neutrality Report of 1993 stated that Neutrality was not enough to protect the country from threats such as terrorism, organized crime and environmental destruction[1]. The country was then obliged to extend its foreign and security policies without compromising neutrality, opening the door for international cooperation in order to address such issues. In fact, international cooperation was determined as an important tool for the country to guarantee its own safety and security (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004; Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 1993).

For instance, Switzerland signed the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1996 and sent  troops to support the international peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo after 1999 (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.a)[2]. In addition, in 2002 the country became a member of the United Nations, and in 2001 the referendum on XYZ introduced some important changes to the role of the Swiss Armed Forces: the first of these changes is the permission of Swiss troops to be armed while taking part in international peacekeeping missions; the second of them is the possibility for Swiss troops to take part in military training exercises with other countries. Such changes were not, however, exempted from controversy and the referendum won by a margin of 2% (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.a.; Swissinfo, 2014). This proved how deeply enrooted the policy of Neutrality is within the Swiss society, how willing its citizens were to keep it and how challenging the efforts of adaptation would be, not to mention that deployments would still remain an entire novelty.

Neutral but not indifferent: The Cold War

Yet such enrooting did not prevent Switzerland to take part in international peace efforts, even during the Cold War even though the strong implications it had for the whole of country. For instance – and despite the non-membership in the United Nations – in 1953 the country’s Federal Council sent 146 armed personnel to Korea, participating in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea (NNRC) and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC). The NNRC worked until 1954, when it accomplished the mission of conducting and completing the exchange of prisoners, while the NNSC still exists today although with a different mission and still supported by 5 officers from the Swiss Armed Forces (along with 5 Swedish officers), stationed in the South Korean village of Panmunjom[3]. In detail, NNSC’s mission consists nowadays of monitoring the armistice – only from the south side of the border though – and several tasks aimed at promoting confidence-building and transparency[4]. Noteworthy to mention, NNSC are not UN blue helmets or blue berets (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.).

At the same time, Switzerland has been supporting UN-led missions and truce supervision efforts, like those that took place in 1967 in the Middle East, as well as in several countries in Africa in the last days of the Cold War and the immediate years after its end. Those countries included: Namibia, where 150 Swiss personnel of the Armed Forces’ medical units for the United Nations Transition Assistance Group were deployed in 1989; and Western Sahara, with 80 personnel of the same units for the Mission des Nations Unies pour le referendum au Sahara Occidental, deployed in 1994 (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swissinfo, 2014).

A hand to the world: After the Cold War.

As mentioned before, the Report of 1993 re-defined the role of the Neutrality policy, thus boosting the participation of the country in peacekeeping efforts abroad[5]. This particularly allowed Switzerland to play a more active role internationally while keeping at the same time in line with the policy of neutrality. Indeed, from 1995 to 1998 several personnel (two doctors, a medical assistant and three military observers) assisted the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT), from 1996 to 2000 55 personnel known as the “yellow berets” supported the work of the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swiss Armed Forces International Command, 2013)[6].

The Western Balkans are an area in which the Swiss Armed Forces and the Swiss International Cooperation are very active. Two areas are especially in focus: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, armed personnel were deployed and tasked with assisting the European Union Force (EUFOR) mission ALTHEA: 4 staff officers and 2 liaison and observation teams (LOT) of 8 people each, plus a Mobile Training Team (MTT) comprised of six personnel of Swiss, Austrian and Swedish nationality, with expertise in small arms, ammunition and languages. Deployed in hot-spots, the LOT teams perform as an “early-warning” for EUFOR and work in close cooperation with the local population, local authorities, and international organizations. The MTT, in turn, have been instructing the Bosnian Armed forced in ammunition and weapons storage management. The Swiss Air Force is also present and supporting EUFOR – ALTHEA with three helicopters performing transport operations (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swiss Armed Forces International Command, 2013).

In turn, 26 personnel were also deployed in Kosovo for assisting the Kosovo Verification Mission from 1998 to 1999[7]. In Kosovo, particularly, another deployment has been taking place since 1999 with the Swiss Company SWISSCOY (235 effectives), and within the NATO-led international Kosovo Force (KFOR). It is tasked with the provision of logistic services, transportation of goods and equipment, mechanics, engineering, medical assistance and evacuation, fire-fighting, police, maintenance, and others. Complemented by – and vital for – it are the Liaison and Monitoring Teams or LMTs. These teams perform as observers, discussion leaders, mediators, information gatherers and “early-warnings”. They also work with the local population and authorities and international organizations the same was as in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISINT, 2013; Swiss Armed Forces, 2014))[8].

Last, but not least, the Swiss Armed Forces and the Swiss Government have been executing operations to tackle the problem of anti-personnel mines. Its de-mining activities have comprised mine risk education, humanitarian demining (surveys, mapping, marking and clearance), victims assistance (rehabilitation and reintegration included), stockpile destruction and advocacy against the use of mine and explosive remnants of war. Additionally, both have provided assistance to local government for de-mining operations and financial assistance, among others (Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISINT, 2013; Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 2012).

Neutrality. A policy with future?

Switzerland has changed along with the rest of the world as a reaction of the shifting conditions following the end of the Cold War and the rise in importance of certain challenges plus the emergence of new ones. For instance, the current objectives of the Swiss foreign policy are mainly five: promotion of the peaceful coexistence of nations and the prevention of violent conflicts – by establishing the rule of law, support of democratic norms and the promotion of dialogue; promotion for human rights and their acceptance; ensuring environmental sustainability and protection; representation of Swiss businesses abroad and the alleviation of needs and poverty in the world (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.a.).

In turn, the objectives and tasks of the Armed Forces are mainly three: the defence of the national territory either by land or air, maintaining defence capacities to answer in the event of a threat; the support to civilian authorities by addressing emergencies and keeping the inner security, thus assisting the police in protecting international conferences, to assist the emergency services in the case of a catastrophe; and, finally, the promotion of peace in the international context and under the mandate of international organizations (Defence Communication, n.a.).

These tasks might be seen as the manifestation of the country’s change of mentality and the further compromise in helping the world in solving most of the problems afflicting it. Yet, the idea of neutrality has not been eradicated or even replaced. Rather than that, this shift consisted mostly of how to recalibrate rather than to discard neutrality as the backbone of Swiss foreign and security doctrines. Its importance still is so evident at large that it can prevent the country from joining certain international organizations and alliances like NATO or from executing any operation or implementing any action if the neutrality of the country is compromised: in short, Switzerland aims for independence but not indifference. Of course, the assistance of both EUFOR and KFOR evidences how the Neutrality policy has reached a significant level of flexibility, to the point of allowing the country to take part in missions executed by less neutral organizations like the EU and NATO. However, that is not entirely new since Switzerland established some cooperation mechanisms with NATO during the days of the Cold War, i.e. the joining of the Marshal Plan, the agreements and established military relations with NATO, the United Kingdom and the US back in the 50’s.

What will be the role of Neutrality in the 21st century then?

An initial answer would be that it will remain flexible as it has been  since its initial revisiting in 1993, allowing the country to lend a hand to the world while safeguarding its independence and non-alignment. Yet, the re-emergence of old threats like Russia poses the question about a possible comeback of a strong Neutrality policy within a context where it is clearly evident that the threat of an invasion is materializing once again and that the peace and stability of Europe cannot be taken as granted. Perhaps, the country would implement again those old cooperation instruments it had with NATO during the times of the Cold War and perhaps, it will realize that a boost of its defences is once again needed. All in all, it seems very possible that Neutrality policies would make a strong comeback and force the Swiss government and armed forces to adopt similar policies as they did in the past.

One thing is for certain though, the country has opened its door widely to international assistance and cooperation and that is a trend that it won’t easily be stopped. Neutrality, then, has changed in form and essence, and it serves as a key and a safety for the country’s involvement abroad. In the current context, it can transform itself into a key with two sides: one to open the door for Swiss activities and assistance at the international level while safeguarding its non-alignment, and another to shut the door when the country’s integrity and peace is again at stake. That is the most likely future for Neutrality à la Suisse in the 21st century. And in either case, Neutrality will keep it importance for the country.


[1] The Security Policy report of the year 2000, as well as the Foreign Policy Report of the same year and the 2001 Partial revision of the Swiss Military Act furthered the reviewing of Neutrality and the aim of a more active involvement abroad, defining in the end that neither both were mutually exclusive. See: (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004), p. 8.

[2] The reasons behind signing the PfP were the desire to promote peace and security – in the international sense, of course – while reserving the right to withdraw if neutrality was compromised. After all, even after the Cold War the policy of Neutrality still plays a role, if not a foundation by itself, of Swiss foreign and defence policy. On the matter of Kosovo, it will be analysed later on in detail.

[3] Located south of the Demarcation Line.

[4] These tasks are: communication of information, inspections of the Ceasefire Commission, observation of US and South Korean military exercises, observation of special investigation when violations to the ceasefire are suspected, and inspections of observation and guard posts within and out of the Demilitarized Zone, as well as inspections of weapon positions (Swiss Armed Forces, n.a.).

[5] Briefly, this has resulted, among others, in the deployment of 4 personnel that worked with the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, from 2003 to 2008. Addittionally Swiss nationals are assisting in other countries and regions like Ghana, Kenya, Mali, D.R. Congo, the Middle East, Somaliland/Puntland, Kashmir, and South Sudan. See:

[6] The “yellow berets’” tasks were mainly logistical, comprising support work, equipment and goods transport, land and air transports, vehicle maintenance, postal services, and medical consultation.

[7] This was not, however, the first time Switzerland participated in a peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. In fact, three Super Puma Helicopters – the same type of units deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina – were deployed, transporting supplies, medication, relief material as well as refugees and wounded to and from the Kosovo – Albanian border. See:, and:

[8] The Explosive Ordnance Teams (EOT) are also an organic and vital element of both SWISSCOY and KFOR.



Defence Communication (n.a.). The tasks of the Armed Forces. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports. (2004). Swiss Neutrality (Brochure, 4th Edition). Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport. Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (2012). Mine Action Strategy of the Swiss Confederation 2012 – 2015. Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (n.a.). Neutrality and isolationism. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (n.a.). Switzerland and the World. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Swiss Federal Council (1993). White Paper on Neutrality – Annex to the Report on Swiss Foreign Policy for the Nineties of 29 November, 1993. Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

Kommunikation Luftwaffe (2009). ALBA- Dank Flexibilität zum Erfolgt. Bern, Schweiz: Schweizer Luftwaffe. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces (Published 2014). Operations with SWISSCOY in Kosovo (Presentation). Schweizer Armee: Kompetenzzentrum SWISSINT. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces (Published 2015). Operation of the Swiss Armed Forces in the NNSC (Presentation). Schweizer Armee: Kompetenzzentrum SWISSINT. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISINT (2013). Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT. Stans-Oberdorf, Switzerland: Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). Factsheet current peace support operations. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). Factsheet past peace support operations. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). NNSC (Korea). Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a.). Peace Support Worldwide – SWISSINT. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). SWISSCOY (Kosovo). Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

The Muslim Efficacy of Daesh (ISIS): Without Philosophy, With Myth

It has become a norm to hear, that the Muslim ‘extreme’ is of the minority, a thesis perpetuated by the Muslim ‘normal’. But when those within the majority Muslim-bracket prefer the deeds exemplified by Daesh (Arabic name for Islamic State) propaganda, the argument proves inconsistent. The opposing premise then inscribed by mainstream media and politicians alike, is that a problem persists within Muslim communities who fail to openly condemn such extremism. To which one response is, that foreign policy further aggravates Muslim grievances; a point epitomised by Baroness Warsi’s resignation in 2014 when Britain failed to condemn Israel’s bombing of Gaza. This unfortunately reinvigorates the all too familiar binary of ‘us and them’.

As such, the ‘us and them’ narrative purportedly reimbursed by both state and non-state terrorism is not only an experience within the West however. There are those for instance who construct the threat of Islamism (politicised Islam) to sustain their own political agendas further isolating Muslims, for example: Burma, Egypt, Bangladesh and Israel. As a result, Muslims unable to legitimately claim recognition politically respond in various ways, most commonly by reviving the ‘us and them’ narrative when all else has failed. The victims in this case are those who not only sympathise but are also prepared by the failed promises of their faith and culture in secular societies, ready to transform this sympathy into something more; what we may term the post post-colonial experience.

This preparation for ‘something more’ has its roots within a smaller spectrum devoid of politics and religion, which deserves more attention. How and why the Muslim identity has become the apparatus of expression, through which individuals feel relieved of their former selves has much to do with social and cultural atavisms. With the case of those joining Daesh, it follows a process of decolonisation, the better-known post-colonial experience which Frantz Fanon described as “the veritable creation of new men”. Under this pretense, a certain level of dissatisfaction has sought to create once more a myth that strives beyond what was either achieved or lost during and after colonialism. The Islam that arose from thereon remained confined by its authorisers and so myths or prophecies, revived and exaggerated gave precedence to alternatives, freeing Muslims from their confinement. But this tradition is nothing new and the myth it often gives birth to is a reaction to that confinement, at times perpetuating from the ‘normal’ to the ‘extreme’. Nevertheless the Daesh myth has appealed to a new generation and it is one that is sired by the post post-colonial experience, made easier by the foundations set in mainstream Islam, that which is of the majority.

Religious/Philosophic Traditions 

We begin in twelfth-century Muslim-Spain, when Islamic Philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) would warn of the dangers of leaving scripture to the theologian, who merely carried personalised popular beliefs but could not interrogate scripture through rational reasoning. Averroes surmised that theologians used their religious authority to exercise power over the Muslim masses. Hence, theologians as Ibrahim Najjar writes [citing Averroes] “defined true belief and heresy, thereby setting the ground for defining the true Muslim and exercising a tremendous influence on the political life of the Muslim community. They monopolized the access to the true faith”. On that basis, Averroes concluded that as human societies progressed, in order to avoid the dangers of scriptural hermeneutics, philosophical interrogation should supersede theological interpretation. With the current issues facing Muslim communities today, Averroes’ warning and council surely deserves more attention than has been warranted, as to why we will now discover.

Many of those who have often radicalised have done so with either little knowledge of that which they claim to know so much of, or by locating a resonance elsewhere which accommodates for both their sympathies and grievances. As noted by Mehdi Hasan, many, if not all search for religious reasons to justify their ‘extreme’ stance, as did British Muslims Mohammad Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar when they were reading Koran for Dummies before their ascent into the ‘extreme’. In other instances, Nabeelah Jaffer’s attempt at clarifying misreadings of the Quran to Daesh jihadis was met with complete silence and Alaa Murabit found her fight for women’s rights in Libya was denounced as anti-scriptural. Whilst in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak has cited the mufti (religious legal expert) in declaring protests to be ‘haram’ (religiously impermissible).

This tradition of reading scripture based on a particular understanding and then applying it to suit one’s personal circumstance is nothing new of course, nor specific to Islam, yet with all the various forms of information available, a lack of independent thinking seems to reign supreme and unchallenged. It is a tradition that emanates from the role presupposed by the (male) theologian or the Imam (priest) who supposedly represents the ideal Muslim, who also prohibits the intellectual vigour to preach beyond scripture. This tradition is reproduced and embedded into the Muslim masses that cannot themselves go beyond scripture, fearing the reprisal in doing so. The struggle that ensues is that of decolonising one-self, so to dissolve any reprisals by crediting one-self as the ‘ideal’. This involves the creation of something ‘new’ by destroying the ‘old’, whilst adhering to the ‘common sense’ constituted by the theologian.       

In his Prison Notebooks Antonio Gramsci asserted, that a social class could achieve hegemony through consent if only by inserting a ‘common sense’ with associated classes. Applying Gramsci’s theory, in the West what we find is a Muslim trans-national association with one particular brand of Islam – the Salafist-Wahabi school, a doctrine exported by Saudi Arabia and one that Daesh also follow. According to Jocelyn Cesari “contemporary Salafism has become the most widespread” form of Islam. Cesari further states whilst Salafism originated with a more diverse and open approach, its revived look under Saudi Wahabism in 1932 sought to reject not only critical approaches to Islam but also secular concepts. A statement typified by the assassination of King Faisal in 1975 after he sought to modernise the kingdom.

The Salafist-Wahabi flame ignited in the 1970s when Saudi Arabia injected copious amounts of wealth into Wahabi-receptive organisations in Muslim-minority states. For instance, in 2002, a Saudi magazine Ain al-Yaqin had reported Saudi investment included 2,000 Islamic schools abroad. Additionally, King Fahd is reported to have spent $75 billion in the 70s/80s on Islamic institutions outside of the kingdom. Whilst Yahya Birt estimates Saudi has been spending $2-3bn a year since 1975 on Islamic-based causes, including the production of leaflets, CDs, websites and books.

Furthermore, according to Yousaf Butt approximately 2,500 members of Daesh are from Saudi and it is not surprising that they have sought to usurp the kingdom by claiming a caliphate in Iraq/Syria, because it is relevant for the myth they are trying to portray. This myth is aimed at fulfilling prophecies linked to the end of days, stories theologians embed into Muslims from a young age. Inevitably, the theologian’s word is used as a manifestation of the ‘ideal’ whilst also used to oppose the theologian’s ‘ideal’. The resulting entrapment of this paradox leaves open a vacuum, which gives prominence to the likes of Daesh, whom re-invent the religious fervour on the basis that they are truly creating something new, or so they believe.          

Muslims in Need of a Myth

In Ancient Greece, muthos (myth) was a way of expressing a truth through story-telling, writes Catalin Partenie. Plato suggested that while philosophers could rationally provide evidence for an argument, the masses at times required myths in order to be persuaded. The ‘noble lie’ as Plato termed it, contained some truths, and muthos enabled an understanding of these truths. In the nineteenth century however, Friedrich Nietzsche would highlight a problem that would come about in the absent of Plato’s muthos. It was for Nietzsche a cultural problem post-Enlightenment, as modernity was anti-mythical. The Enlightenment sought to do-away with myths through science but science could never replace the socio-cultural value of myth which had been reduced to fictitious fairy-tales. Myth according to Nietzsche “communicates an idea of the world” and “man…stripped of myth, stands famished among all his pasts and must dig frantically for roots, be it among the most remote antiquities”. This was Nietzsche’s concern, that if science could not replace myth, then what would or could? What we witness today, in the context of Muslim extremism, is that Nietzsche’s concern has unravelled a disastrous consequence.            

This consequence, though engulfed by the political atmosphere of post-colonialism and 9/11, is made more so disastrous by the incited warnings of Averroes in the twelfth century. Islam as Cesari argues could now be left for the student, engineer or doctor to preach, much thanks to the internet; the theologian merely taught but his authority elsewhere declined. This authority only declined as it failed to deliver on some promises and so it is common to find groups like Daesh promise an Islamic utopia as a part of the myth which Muslims have been deprived of in both East and West. In Europe, Akbar Ahmed best describes how and why this occurs:

“When they need to discuss their problems, the youth find it difficult, if not impossible, to speak to the local imam in the mosque… [They] have little idea or interest in European history or culture…often unable to speak the local European language fluently. So when young Muslims approach them to talk of the social problems facing European youth – alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying – they have no idea how to effectively advise them…in short, they have made themselves almost irrelevant to the Muslim community…the parents as well, in their desire to establish themselves economically in European society, have become disconnected from the next generation as is evident from their shock and horror when their sons and daughters are charged in terrorist cases”

Despite the outright demeaning role allocated for Muslim/non-Muslim women and the heinous punishments carried out on both Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women continue to join Daesh. In addition to Akbar Ahmed’s explanation for this, Deeyah Khan proposes escapism as a reason – escaping the fundamental difficulties of being Muslim in a secular society, especially for women. Daniel Hannan on the other hand suggests that those joining Daesh “are convinced that they can see things more keenly than others, and that this clarity of vision elevates and ennobles their aggression”. Whilst Suraj Lakhani’s research suggests a certain level of romanticism is involved, whereby the excitement of travelling and fighting for a cause presents an imagined utopia. Similarly, Nabeelah Jaffer’s recorded communications with young Daesh jihadis brings to the fore the many different explanations from escapism and narcissism to romanticism. But what they all have in common is the complex asserted by Nietzsche, they are all trying to fill the vacuous nature of their post post-colonial experience and Daesh merely offer an opportunity to do so. As succinctly summed up by Deeyah Khan “[Daesh] Islamic State positions itself as a place of refuge, a shining mirage in which Muslim fantasies can come to a glorious fruition, where domination and power can be reclaimed”.

The Muslim Efficacy   

Whilst Muslims continue to follow and remain loyal to the Salafist-Wahabi teachings, Averroes’ warning becomes ever more apparent that philosophical interrogation is a necessity. The failure to go beyond the confinement established by the theologian has left the new generation of Muslims dissatisfied and thus seeking an alternative, unfortunately with the added political disillusionments extremism has become a popular choice. Whether or not Muslims of the ‘normal’ condemn extremism, extremism will continue to flourish under the guise of the theologian, desperately seeking a better myth. Furthermore, if we are to take Nietzsche seriously, then we may find that under the ‘common sense’ of the theologian, these myths will continue to be created even after the death of Daesh. They will become more extreme and absurd as we continue to search for a myth that accommodates for the post post-colonial experience.

Author Biography

Rubel Mozlu has recently obtained an MSc from the University of Bristol in International Relations with the intention of pursuing a PhD on the topic of philosophy, religion and terrorism. His MSc main thesis focused on ‘Liberal Democracy and Culture’ with a particular focus on Egypt’s revolutions and Bangladesh’s election boycott. His current interests are in the MENA region, Islamic history, Western and Eastern Philosophy and Culture.

Urban Centres And Rural Areas – The Return Of The City-state?

Over the last couple of years and electoral cycles, one of the oldest pieces of news has been the dichotomy and disparity between the more open/leftist urban centers and cities on the one hand and the less-diverse, conservative rural areas.

This seems to be more rooted in human nature than in any one specific culture, nation, or civilization, seeing that the basic calculus seems to be ‘the higher the population density, the more open/leftist is the electorate’ and ‘the lower the population density, the better fare far-right groups’. We have seen this in the recent elections in the United States, the referendum on the power of the presidency in Turkey as well as various local elections in Germany (see our coverage here and here). In the 2017 French parliamentary elections we

In the 2017 French parliamentary elections, we saw a far-right contender for the highest office in the country with realistic chances, that was eventually beaten by a previous political unknown and a party that was founded little more than a year before the elections. Differently so, the German election seems to be decided between two centrist parties with the far-right AfD waning in recent polls. Now, where does all this leave us gazing into a future beyond the next five years?

Looking at more and more cases of divided nations and states, we do as well see an increase in the similarities of structural divides between Metropolitania and the Ruralilands –the capital cities in the EU 28 alone show a clear majority of politically progressive, more often than not left-leaning, mayors across the Union, independent from which parties’ federal government is located in those very cities. One such example is Munich, capital of the free state of Bavaria, one of Germany’s largest, most populated, and most unwaveringly Christian conservative federal states. Having a track record of never once having been governed by a prime minister from a party other than the right-of-center Christian Social Union since the 1950s, it has as well only had one lone CSU mayor since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1948 – usually being led by a member of the Social Democratic Party.

Other indicators of a transnational trend of urban centres dissenting have been the ‘remain’ votes of London in the Brexit vote (incidentally led by a non-caucasian named Khan), New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and so many cities voting against Donald Trump in the United States and, most recently, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in their stance ‘against’ during the referendum in Turkey.

So, when cities are increasingly separated in their outlook and culture from the surrounding states/countries, and share closer ties with other cities across geographical and national lines, how far away are we from a revival of the city-state and a community/network of such cities that unite to better pursue their political, economic and, yes, military interests? An intellectual successor to the Hanseatic League (that came to be a dominant power in Northern regions of Germany and the Baltic Sea in the 14th-17th century) the possibilities for such an alliance are manifold.

The core question to ask the speculatively minded reader is: If the idea of having united national identities is truly and increasingly fading, and city dwellers have more in common with their brethren overseas that watch the same TV shows and speak a similar portfolio of languages than with their compatriots in far-flung forests and hills, why not make it official, get it done and over with?

In a world in which trade, investments, and political movements are largely located in those places in which there are high concentrations of customers and listeners (let’s see how well the online sphere and its freedom of access will weather upcoming storms), it is no wonder that those that remain in the far-flung parts of a nation feel (and are) left behind, so why not accept this seemingly insurmountable divide and call it quits?**

Once upon a time, the Hanse included cities from Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands and 16 German states, with embassies (‘Kontore’) in Belgium, the United Kingdom, Norway, Lithuania and Belarus, and as most of their members were no truly independent city-states, their model of a political, economic and military community with shared problems and opportunities may well be an example worth considering.

While a ‘national’ community of exclaves with embassies and a membership in (trans-)regional alliances and a seat in the UN Security Council would certainly be thinkable, a more ‘hanseatic’ model seems more likely for the moment. In this case, a strong international ‘Coalition of Urban Centres’ (CUC) could well serve as an additional representation and lobby for the unique interests/structural issues of larger cities and metropolitan areas. It would, thus, heighten the public profile and fundamental importance of combatting the above-mentioned divide in otherwise harmonious (and be it in their heterogeneity) regions while sharpening the focus to problem-solve and find solutions for those places in which the divide is too big and the bridges are too short.

As much as this would be potentially feasible in terms of demography and political cohesion, any version of this would bring with it a variety of structural issues, especially in the case of the ‘national option’. Starting from political processes and institutions (fixed-seat, or geographically flexible) to mobility and borders (Visa, tariffs), on to military defensibility and culturally shaped interpretations of Human Rights. Then again, which political system didn’t and doesn’t have its very own brand of problems and regionalisms that compete over time, so who is to say it couldn’t, wouldn’t, or cannot be made to work by enlightened people?

Alas, it might not come to it, and this thought experiment may serve as an exercise in what might happen and become viable options if the work of civil societies and democratic processes fail to mediate between the various groups and interests within their societies – and as a warning to all of us, writers, activists and policy makers to make conscious efforts to build lasting bridges between the disparate parts of our European communities.

Moritz Borchardt is a director of GPPW and Project Manager for Civic and Political Education for Culture Goes Europe.

** This of course implies an ‘othering’ and images of a civilized/open/enlightened ‘us’ in the urban centres versus perceived barbaric/stereotypically nationalist/unworthy hordes of ‘them’, which in and of itself can be seen as problematic and is taken out of the narrative here for the sake of brevity in the outlined thought experiment.

Cover Image by Flaurent Lamoureaux under a BY-NC-ND 2.0 creative commons license.

Deforestation, Logging And Mining: A Deadly Combination For The Amazon Rainforest

Deforestation, Logging and Minning: a deadly combination for the Amazon rainforest.

Fig 1: Eco4u, 2011

The Amazon forest is the largest, and one of the most bio diverse rainforests in the world. It covers an area of 5.5 million square kilometers and is shared by nine countries, as shown by the yellow line in figure 1 , including: Brazil with the largest share at 68%; then Peru at 13%; Bolivia at 11% and Colombia at 6%. Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana also hold a small part of the forest. (Simpsons, 2009, p.1)

The green line on figure 1 shows the Amazon forest that lies within the Brazilian territory. As much as 59% of Brazil’s entire territory is part of the Amazon forest.  The red line in figure 1 shows the area known as Legal Amazon (Amazônia Legal) that was created in 1953. This territorial boundary was established due to the need of economic growth in the region and therefore is not considered to be a part of the forest’s ecosystem. (IPEA, 2007)


Fig 2: Editora Lago, n.d

This area can be seen better in figure 2 where it shows that the forest comprises 8 whole Brazilian states: Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins, and is also present in a part of the state Maranhão. It is in these states that most indigenous groups reside with around 56% of the indigenous population. (IPEA, 2007)

 The Amazon has one of the richest eco-systems in the world; according to Case it contains an average of “40,000 plant species, 427 mammals, 1294 birds, 378 reptiles, 427 amphibians, 3,000 fishes, and likely over a million insect species”. The Amazon basin also supports individuals with agriculture and silviculture[1] besides providing natural resources for the creation of medicines and materials used in construction. The Amazon river is a great source of freshwater and it represents 15 to 20% of universal river flow. (Case, n.d)

The Amazon Rainforest plays a key role in regulating the earth’s climate and is often referred as the lungs of the world due to its vast consumption of carbon dioxide and production of oxygen, without which the earth could not survive. As such, the survival of the Amazon is directly linked to the survival of the planet. However, despite this fact it is under threat from logging and farming. (WWF, n.d)


The Amazon is threatened by several activities such as deforestation, logging, mining, forest fires and road infrastructure. Over recent years the situation has improved but it is clear that a lot of work still needs to be done. Below there will be a short introduction to some of  the threats that affect the Amazon forest.


Since the 1960s and 70s, deforestation in the rainforest, particularly in the Brazilian Amazon, has been very high mainly due to the greater access allowed by the construction of highways, such as the Trans Amazonian Highway, through the forest. Prior to 1970, the forested area of the Brazilian Amazon was 4,100,000km2; by 2008 it had been reduced to 3,375,000km2(Simpsons, 2009, p.2)

Around 65 – 70% of  the deforestation in the Amazon is caused mainly by cattle ranches, followed by local scale agriculture with 20 – 25%, commercial scale agriculture with 5 – 10%, logging with 2-3% and forest fires, mining, urbanization, construction of roads and dams with 1-2%. (Butler, 2012)

The graph below illustrates the level of deforestation from 1988 – 2012:

The graph below illustrates the level of deforestation

Fig 3: Butler, 2012

The rate of deforestation from 1988 – 2012 can be seen in figure 3. The highest peak of deforestation occurred in 1995 where, in comparison to the previous year, there was an increase of 95% with 29.095 square kilometers of forestland felled. The lowest point up until now was in 2012 where deforestation decreased by 16% in comparison to 2011, with only 4656kmof the forest being logged.

Further detail can be seen in the table from 2000-2012:


Fig 4: INPE

Figure 4 shows the percentage of change in deforestation from 2000 – 2012 released by the INPE. High peaks were registered in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In 2005 there is a reduction of 31% in the level of deforestation. The figures from 2005 – 2012 show a further decrease in deforestation with the exception of 2008 where deforestation increased by 11%.

Historically, deforestation in Brazil has been closely linked with the country’s economy; a decline in the economy matches a decline in deforestation and vice versa. As Butler notes: “the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil’s period of rapid economic growth”. (Butler, 2012)

Butler states that the reason for this is simply that in periods of economic stagnation or decline, ranchers and developers do not have the money to expand their land into rainforest territory and the government has no money to encourage them with tax breaks or highway developments. However, in the last decade the link between the Brazilian economy and rainforest deforestation has become less apparent(Butler, 2012)

Unfortunately, since this article was written deforestation rose by 28% from August 2012 – July 2013 setting back decades of work. (BBC, 2013)


Logging refers to the process of cutting down trees and collecting the timber for commercial purposes. The impact that this activity has on the environment still needs to be evaluated properly due to the diverse methods in which logging can be executed. Logging, depending on how it is done, can lead to severe destruction. Illegal logging conducted without following the pre-approved procedures, tends to cause more harm to the environment since the land is often being cleared mainly for pasture. This destroys the equilibrium of the forest and makes it more vulnerable to fires. (Barreto et al., 2006)

Besides cattle ranchers clearing land for their livestock, the rainforest is also being targeted by international corporations and national companies for its wood. Illegal logging contributes a large amount to the overall deforestation of the Amazon with an average of 60-80% of all logging activities in the forest considered to be illegal. Such illegal loggers usually forge permits and cut down trees from preserved and indigenous areas without respecting the legal limitation. These activities are executed in small or moderate scale to make detection difficult. Loggers also take advantage of the fact that the governmental environment agency, IBAMA, is not very present due to the remoteness of the areas in which they work. (Greenpeace International, 2005)

Illegal loggers are also intelligent when it comes to covering their tracks, often using “legally approved forest operations in the Brazilian Amazon commonly provide cover for illegal logging. Logs are frequently cut illegally up river from approved operations and clandestinely floated downstream.” Once they arrive in an area that was approved for forestry activities the logs are legalized with fake documents declaring that they were cut legally. (Greenpeace International, 2005)

To counteract the illegal logging threat the Brazilian national space agency (INPE) launched a program called Deter in 2004 to monitor the Amazon forest live using satellites. Once a satellite detects an abnormal activity it emits a report directly to the Amazonian states so that they can take action against the criminals. The coordinates provided by the satellite are very precise. If the location is difficult to access the IBAMA officials go by helicopter. (Menezes, 2012)


The Amazon rainforest is rich in precious metals and according to the WWF, “copper, tin, nickel, bauxite, manganese, iron and gold” can be found within the forest and tax benefits are being offered by governments to encourage extraction projects to stimulate economies. The prediction is that mining in the Amazon will increase due to the  technological advance in extractive knowledge combined with such monetary incentives.  (WWF, n.d)

However, many of these extraction methods have an adverse effect on the natural environment. Mining in general often damages the environment; it contaminates water supplies and threatens small communities such as indigenous populations. Gold mining in particular can be especially damaging to local habitats as it often involves the use of hazardous chemicals such as Mercury. (Casey, 2009)

Mercury is a highly pollutant chemical that can cause serious illness in humans and is often found in high quantities around gold mining sites, having found its way into the local food and water supply, contaminating animals and subsequently the humans that eat them. (Casey, 2009) Additionally, once the raw material has been mined, it has to be melted down. This requires charcoal to fuel furnaces that is often sourced from the forest by cutting down trees. (Everyculture, n.d)

Mining activities also affect local populations by polluting the environment. For example, the Kayapó village of Gorotire started to suffer from the environmental consequences of the mining industry that had brought so much wealth. The rivers became polluted, sexually transmitted diseases and malaria increased and the tribe became reliant on food that was brought into the forest as they had reduced their hunting activities. In the 1990’s, indigenous women started to miscarriage or give birth to babies with health problems. This happened as a result of mercury contamination in the soil, water, air and food caused by mining. (Rabben, 2010)

Nowadays natural resources are becoming scarce and the Amazon forest has vast quantities of untapped raw materials such as plants, timber, gold and iron, all of which are currently being exploited illegally. It would be beneficial if the Brazilian government increased control and by patrolling the Amazon region illicit activities can be monitored closely.

The Amazon Rainforest is being plagued by numerous threats such as those mentioned above. As stated, the Brazilian government is taking actions to counteract these threats, but, with a few exceptions, it would seem that many of these measures are not producing the desired results.

*This Article is adapted from my master’s thesis: ‘Sustainable Development & Green Economy: the planet’s future or greening indigenous communities into oblivion?’ which was completed as part of the Master’s Curriculum at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt, Germany.

*Cover image ‘Amazon forest’ by  Lou Gold

[1] Silviculture refers to the cultivation of forests and trees. (Free Dictionary, n.d)

Kenya’s Battle Against Terrorism

With the world’s attention focusing on recent terrorist attacks in Nigeria it is easy to forget that other African countries also struggle with terrorism and extremist Islamist groups.


The past weeks have been intense for ethnic Somalis in Kenya with illegal Somali immigrants being deported, the movement of Somali refugees being restricted and many arrests of Somalis taking place. These actions were taken by the Kenyan government after several terrorist attacks in the country conducted by Al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist militant group affiliated with Al-Qaeda since February 2012. The Kenyan government claims that Somali communities and refugees within the country are serving as a hideout and breeding place for extremism linked to Al-Shabaab.

Kenya decided to send troops into Somalia due to the increase in cross-border attacks and after aid workers and tourists were kidnapped in October 2011. In retaliation Al-Shabaab announced that they would take the conflict to the streets in Kenya. Since then, Kenya’s security situation has worsened with over 50 attacks taking place so far.

Major past attacks & on going issues

Even before 2011, the number of terrorist attacks in Kenya has been on the rise since the late 1990s. The situation started to deteriorate in 1998 when Kenya became the centre of attention for international terrorism due to the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi in which over 200 people died. In 2002 an Israeli hotel was targeted in Mombasa leading to 13 deaths. Al-Qaeda terrorists were behind both attacks, and although their main targets were Americans and Israelis, it was the local Kenyans paid the highest price in terms of lives lost and injuries sustained.

But since Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011, attacks against civilians within the country have intensified. Attacks are usually carried out using grenades and improvised bombs, with public spaces, churches, pubs, bus stations, shopping centres and military sites in and around Nairobi and Mombasa being the main targets.

The first attacks began on the 24th of October, when a grenade was thrown into a bar and on a separate occasion in a bus terminal leading to six death in total. On the 12th of March 2012 a bus station was targeted in a second attack, killing six people. In May 2012, a bomb was placed in a shopping mall injuring 30 people.  In July 2012, masked gunmen attacked two churches killing 17 people in total.

The worst of these attacks occurred in September 2013, when Al-Shabaab militants seized the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi killing over 60 people, making it one of the deadliest attacks in Kenya, second only to the 1998 embassy bombing. The militants demanded the removal of Kenyan forces in Somalia.

 Cultural Context

There are three main factors often cited as the reason for Kenya being a target for international terrorism: the country’s close relationship with Israel and the west; its predominantly beach-focused tourism industry which is at odds with the local Muslim culture; and its majority Christian population which is seen as obstructing the ‘Islamisation’ of Eastern Africa.

Kenya is also an easy target given its geographically strategic position relative to Europe and Asia, compounded by a lack of border policing leaving the country open to unstable neighbouring countries such as Somalia and Sudan. Other reasons given for how terrorists have been able to operate in Kenya include the country’s fairly open and multicultural society, its relatively advanced regional economy and infrastructure, considerable Muslim population, and socially and economically deprived costal regions.

Besides the obvious effect of causing injury and death to innocent citizens, terrorist attacks in Kenya have also had a negative effect on the country’s economy and society. Kenya’s tourism industry has been particularly badly affected, and relations between the Christian and Muslim populations have become increasingly tense. Terrorist activity has also resulted in a gradual degradation of Kenya’s sovereignty and its citizen’s rights.

Governmental efforts at countering terrorism

Currently Kenya depends on a legislative, social and diplomatic approach to the issue of terrorism. Among these approaches is the anti-terrorist legislation, enhanced security patrols performed by police and military forces, and social outreach and peace talks with Somalia and Sudan.

Since the 1998 terrorist attacks, Kenya has been developing a legal and official framework to fight its terrorist problem. For several years the parliament has been debating an anti-terrorism bill, but due to political and religious differences it has yet to be approved into law.

However, an Anti-terrorism Police Unit was established in 2003 as well as a National Counter-Terrorism Centre. This Centre was subsequently replaced in 2013 with the help of UK funding by a larger building with several holding cells, rooms for interrogation, cutting edge technology for conducting operations and inquiries, updated communications systems and detectors for explosives and detonators.

On the 10th of April 2014, Kenya’s transport minister Michael Kamauannounced that airport security at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) would be improved by the introduction of new security facilities and increasing the number of paramilitary patrols.

Kenya’s newest measures to combat terrorism focus primarily on screening Somali communities in Nairobi and uncovering Al-Shabaab militants who hide amongst the large refugee community.

Non-governmental efforts at countering terrorism

The Kenyan government, along with many NGOs, recognise the importance of creating a counter-radicalisation policy to stop young people from joining violent groups. In order to achieve this, some NGOs suggest that the Kenyan government should do more to encourage economic empowerment amidst marginalised communities. Tom Mboya, founder of the Inuka Kenya trust NGO created in 2009 dedicated to encouraging young Kenyans to improve their lives, says that now is the time to engage them and that: “they’re what should be the engine of this country,”

Abdikadir Sheikh, an employee of local NGO Sustainable Support and Advocacy Programme, mentions that they set up an experimental project to deter youths from entering extremist groups in the towns of Dadaab and Garissa: “We are very careful or [we could] lose our lives; you can’t confront radicalization directly – you need different approaches…We have established a strong team of more than 600 youths… some have so far joined colleges. We plan to work with the county governments.”

US efforts in Kenya’s fight against terrorism

Kenya is an important regional American ally in the “war on terror”. The country has been receiving aid through the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism program from Washington since 2003. Robert Godec, the US Ambassador to Kenya stated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is collaborating with security forces in Kenya to help tackle the terrorist threat.

Kenya is amongst the top five recipients of State Department Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) financial assistance worldwide. It supports programmes that focus on law enforcement, as well as security of borders and coastal regions. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service in 2013, “ATA funds support counterterrorism training for the Kenyan Police, and have averaged $8 million annually in recent years”

*Cover image ‘ a column of Al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia’ by Abayomi Azikiwe

Same-Sex Marrieage – A Global Social Movement

Activists in the LGBT+ community celebrated an historic legal victory this summer when the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this summer. With this, the United States joins the group of twenty-six countries that allow same-sex marriage across the globe.  Several nations, such as the US’ neighbor to the south, Mexico, have regional freedom to marry. Many more have some protections for couples, while others still treat homosexuality as taboo or even illegal as is the case in Kenya, Singapore, and others. In an increasingly globalized community, social, economic, and political movements can transcend borders quickly and effectively. As the LGBT+ rights movement gains momentum with victories in more areas around the globe, countries will feel growing pressure to adopt same-sex marriage and other protection legislation.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the United States did not happen in a vacuum.  Much of Europe had already accepted same-sex marriage with little resistance. To the south, Latin American states had legalized same-sex marriage already; Argentina was the first in 2010, prompting Brazil and Uruguay to follow suit.  Mexico effectively legalized the practice shortly before the U.S. through a jurisprudential thesis ruling that a heterosexual-exclusive definition of marriage was discriminatory and unconstitutional. The U.S.’ northern cousin, Canada, was a decade ahead of it, granting full legalization in 2005. In fact, before the Court’s ruling, the U.S., surrounded by countries allowing same-sex marriage, was one of only two developed Anglophone countries to ban it.

The remaining holdout is Australia.  Australia, seeking to use momentum from the U.S. movement, introduced a bill soon after to join its fellow developed English-speakers; it will be voted on later this year.  Supporters of the bill cite the fact that Australia is woefully behind its peers on the issue. India, too, has begun feeling pressure from the U.S. ruling to review its 2013 Supreme Court decision which reinstated homosexuality as a crime. “In the light of globalization, the (Indian) Supreme Court judgment is being cited as a totally reactionary judgment,” Ashok Row Kavi, head of the Humsafar Trust advocacy group, said. “A judgment that goes against the whole concept of human rights which had been on a progressive upsurge in India.” Countries who resist an increasingly common norm risk being seen in a negative light.  In addition, the Philippines, whose governmental structure is similar to that of the U.S., is reviewing a challenge to its civil code barring same-sex marriage. Having support from a U.S. judgement will strengthen the cases of activists in these countries and others.

As a superpower, the U.S. ruling will no doubt have influence in the future of the LGBT+ rights movement. Human rights, generally speaking, are transnational, and as acceptance of all sexual orientations becomes commonplace, the more power activists will wield in their respective countries. With the U.S. decision still fresh, it will take time to witness and measure its full impact on the global LGBT+ rights campaign. However, one can be sure that having such an influential ally as the U.S. can only help the movement advance.

About the Author

Beth Bickerton is a graduate of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, holding a degree in International Relations and French. She has previously worked in both nonprofit and governmental organizations, including the United States Supreme Court and the Social Science Research Council.  Her interests include the European Union, human rights, and wildlife conservation.

Twitter: @bethbickerton

Cover image ‘06262013 – SCOTUS DOMA 110‘ by JoshuaMHoover

The Peruvian…Miracle? Why We Should Look Beyond the GDP

For the past fifteen years, the Peruvian economy has been booming; since the start of the last decade, the country has experienced a healthy dose of GDP growth, which has more than doubled since 2000, coming from a little more than 50 billion US Dollars in that year, to 200 billion US Dollars in 2014 (Fig. 1), representing an average growth of 7.8% each year in that period.

A similar trend is seen in the GDP per capita (PPP); a well-known but inexact measure of living standards within countries. According to The World Bank, in the year 2000, GDP per capita in Peru was over 5100 US Dollars, but by 2014 that figure had risen to over 12,000 US Dollars. This is the Peruvian miracle; an unexpected and very important economic growth at a time when almost all the developed world was in crisis.

The causes for this rise are mainly explained by foreign, as opposed to internal, factors. In 2000 Peru was shocked by a corruption scandal that reached the top spheres of central government and saw the then President Fujimori flee the country to try to resign by fax from Japan before being removed from office by the Congress on the grounds of moral incapacity. He is now in jail, sentenced on corruption charges and for violation of human rights during his presidential terms.

In that context, Peru was in no shape to carry the ‘emerging market’ slogan just yet, but the developed world was just recovering from the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the dot-com bubble four years later after the 9/11 attacks occurred in United States of America. This is related to Peru because in a world in crisis, investors no longer saw the dollar as a safe haven and instead retreated to commodities such as gold and silver, among others, and Peru was a top destination for this type of investment.

Gold prices rose fivefold, from 300 USD/oz in 2001 to more than 1800 USD/oz in 2011 and silver rose from less than 10 USD/oz to more than 50 USD/oz in the same period. The prosperity in commodities prices and an unstable world led to this Peruvian miracle that it is now studied and praised by many; even COFACE and Bloomberg have called Peru one of the new ‘hot emerging markets’ for the near future.

However, there is a problem: commodities are no longer hot investments. Their prices are gradually declining and the developed world is slowly returning to the path of growth which has led many to think that the Peru ‘miracle’ is almost certainly over and Peru will return to modest rates of economic growth this year as predicted by the International Monetary Fund. But what if we look beyond the GDP in Peru? What has this growth left for the country?

Figure 2 shows the poverty situation of Peruvian population from 2004 to 2014, using the oldest official and comparable statistics in poverty for Peru (it is safe to assume that the situation was even worse in the 1990s).

In 2004, more than half the population in Peru was living in poverty or extreme poverty and roughly 40% was non-poor. Ten years of strong economic growth has certainly improved the poverty situation in Peru; the percentage of non-poor people almost doubled and meanwhile the total poor population has gone from 58% to just over 22% last year, an important reduction that signals a positive trend in living conditions.

A sound macroeconomic management by central government was able to carry and maintain this growth during a long period of time; The World Economic Forum ranked Peru 21 out of 144 surveyed countries in macroeconomic environment in its latest Global Competitiveness Report, thanks to its balanced budget, low inflation prospects and low government debt.

Whilst this all sounds like good news, upon closer inspection there is still one problem: The Peruvian population is not living particularly better now and most of it – more than 8 out 10 Peruvians – are still living at the bottom of socioeconomic classes. This means that a large percentage of population considered non-poor is still within the poverty threshold or at risk of becoming poor soon. GDP growth has improved the economic situation in Peru but the country is still far from becoming a developed society, or even ensuring that its population lives with better standards.

Peru is at a crossroads: it is still considered one of Latin America’s stars but it is currently experiencing constant political instability created by corruption, particular interests and failed promises by its governments – the last three elected presidents are either in jail or under investigation on corruption charges – which is already affecting growth prospects and will continue to do so. But more importantly it will affect the kind of lives people are able to live in Peru; many economic reforms are needed in the country, but political and social reforms are even more crucial in securing long term growth and ultimately a better-off Peruvian population.

Author Biography

Pedro Mario Portocarrero Moreno is a Peruvian Economist, with a broad perspective on economic and social issues, I am currently working as professor of economics at a university in Peru but soon will be a Social Policy master’s student at The London School of Economics and Political Science. My main interests are development studies, policy implementation, politics and economics.

*Cover image ‘Lima moderna – city skyline‘ by Julian Vaca

Thai Politics: More of the Same Old Story?

Following months of speculations, Junta leader General Prayut Chan-o-chan confirmed in his weekly television programme, Returning Happiness to Thai People, that he would not prolong his stay in power and would end his tenure once new elections are held. General Prayut ascended to power last year following the ousting of the elected Pheu Thai government in a bloodless military coup. The coup was supposedly necessary to restore political stability and reform the country’s governing structure after months of political paralysis and street protests. One year on, the Junta is not far off from its stated intentions: the martial law was lifted earlier this year, work is underway to adopt a new constitution, and parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in 2016. Could this be the first glimpse of a return to democracy for Thailand?

As part of its efforts to reform the country’s governing structure, the junta – also known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – completed the first draft of the new constitution earlier this year. Since taking power a year ago, the NCPO had come under significant domestic and international pressure to hold elections, which it claimed could only occur under a new constitution. With the first draft completed, and the seven amendments (which includes a clause on holding a referendum over the constitution next year) to the documents recently approved by Thailand’s Parliament, the general election is now scheduled to take place in August 2016 under the premise that the constitution is approved first in the referendum. However, regardless of the referendum’s outcome next year, the political situation is unlikely to change significantly in the near future as Thai voters are presented with a Hobson’s choice of either accepting a less than democratic new constitution or rejecting it and prolonging the Junta’s grip on power.

The draft’s constitution has sparked strong criticisms from both main political parties which typically never seem to agree on any issue as they argue that the draft would greatly limit the powers of elected politicians and do little to end the political polarisation. Under the draft, future elections will be decided by a proportional representation voting system which would make it unlikely for any political party to win a parliamentary majority. Should no legislator earns enough support, the document would allow for an unelected prime minister to rule to avoid political paralysis. Less than a third of senators from a Government pre-selected pool of candidates will be elected directly down from half at present. The planned constitution will also entail the creation of numerous institutions to support politicians, including a “National Moral Assembly” which will punish those who act unethically, and will more likely contain any government critics. The Junta will retain control over the legislative agenda though a National Reform Steering Committee whose members will be drawn from the current bodies entrusted by the military to govern the country will prevent any future administration to deviate from a legislative programme currently being laid down by the junta.

In addition, some critics have argued that the charter aims at neutralising the influence of the Pheu Thai (red shirt) party which has won every election since 2001 with the support of a strong rural populace. Two months ago, the red shirt TV channel Peace TV had its license revoked on the ground that it incited violence and caused “divisions in the Kingdom”. More recently, former red shirt Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appeared before court over her involvement in the controversial rice-subsidy scheme which led to losses estimated at more than 500 million bahts as the Government failed to resell most of the rice it purchased from farmers at an above market average price. If found guilty, she could be imprisoned for up to 10 years and asked to pay $18 billion in compensation for damages caused by the scheme. While there is no doubt that the rice scheme was poorly designed, unsustainable, and had disastrous consequences for the country’s economy, Ms Shinawatra and her supporters may not be wrong in affirming that such scrutiny and attacks placed on the Former Prime Minister are part of efforts from her enemies (royalist-military establishment) to handicap her powerful family.

Unlike the 2006 military coup, the NCPO is much more oppressive in nature. After seizing power, the junta introduced martial law and a nationwide curfew, banning political gatherings, arresting and detaining politicians and anti-coup activists, imposing internet censorship and taking control of the media. Hundreds of people, including activists, journalists and politicians have been arrested since the coup according to Human Rights Watch. In January 2015, the Junta forced a German foundation to cancel a forum on press freedom over the justification that Thailand was at a sensitive juncture.

Earlier this year, the junta lifted martial law but it was replaced with a degree that gives General Prayut unchecked power over all branches of government and grants him immunity from prosecution. Civil liberties are still heavily curbed in Thailand. On the first anniversary of the coup, 38 students were arrested in central Bangkok for taking part in symbolic protests and more recently, 14 students were charged with sedition for holding peaceful demonstrations against the country’s military government – if the military court finds them guilty, they could face up to seven years in prison.

However, the current political stability may be contingent on the promise that the economy does not deteriorate and lead to growing resentment from the most strongly affected by the poorly performing Thai economy – farmers which constitute 40% of the population and primary electorate of the Pheu Thai Party. Despite efforts from the junta to revive the economy through a series of stimulus measures, including new infrastructure development projects, results are yet to be felt by the people. The gross domestic product barely grew last quarter from the three previous months, demands are falling, exports declining and household debts are at an all-time high. Toyota, the Japanese car manufacturer with the largest market share in Thailand, reported falling sales of 17% in the period of January-March 2015 and traced back the problem with the decreasing purchasing power of farmers. It remains to be seen how long the Thai junta will sustain its legitimacy but until then, it will remain the same as it used to be – in between democracy and dictatorship.

Author Biography

Julie Yvin graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) with a Master’s degree in Public Management and Governance, and previously studied Social Science at a leading liberal arts college in Thailand. Prior coming to the UK, Julie has worked at UNICEF within the Child Protection division in Lao PDR, and has experience organising debate events and teaching. She now works in public policy in London.

*Cover image ‘ Thailand‘ by wongaboo

Europe’s Role in an East Asian War

This article was originally published on Seidler’s Sicherheitspolitik blog.

Major war in East Asia is a very unpleasant, but not unthinkable scenario. Of course, the US would be involved from day one in any military conflict in the East or South China Seas. However, Europe’s role would be less clear, due to its increasing strategic irrelevance. Most probably, except the UK, Europeans would deliver words only.

Europe’s reactions depend on America

Europe's Role in an East Asian War
Claims in the South China Sea (The Economist)

While Asia’s naval arms race keeps going,tensions are rising further in the East and South China Seas. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any side will lunch a blitz-strike and, thereby, start a regional war. Although China is increasing its major combat capabilities, it is instead alreadyusing a salami-slicing tactic to secure its large claims. However, the worst of all threats are unintended incidents, caused for example by young nervous fighter pilots, leading to a circle of escalations without an exit in sight.

Hence, let us discuss the very unpleasant scenario that either there would be a major war between China and Japan or between China and South China Sea neighboring countries, such as Vietnam or the Philippines. Of course, the US would be involved in the conflict from day one. But what about Europe? The Old Continent would surely be affected, especially by the dramatic global economic impact an East Asian War would have. However, European countries’ reactions would very large depend on what the US is doing. The larger the US engagement, the louder Washington’s calls for a coalition of the willing and capable.

The UK would (maybe) go

The Royal Navy undertakes annual “Cougar Deployments” to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the UK still has expeditionary capabilities to join US-led operations in East of Malacca. Disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan by the destroyer HMS Daring and the helicopter carrier HMS Illustriousproved that British capability. While Daring is a sophisticated warship, the 34 year old Illustrious with her few helicopters and without fixed-wing aircraft would not be of much operational worth.

Europe's Role in an East Asian War
Royal Navy SSN in the Suez Canal in 2001 (The Hindu)

Moreover, since 2001, the Royal Navy always operates one SSN with Tomahawk cruise-missiles in the Indian Ocean, probably the most sophisticated high-intensity warfare platfrom the Royal Navy would have to offer for an East Asia deployment. In addition, the UK still has access toports in Singapore and Brunei, although there is no guarantee that these countries, when not involved in the conflict, would open their ports for British ships underway to war. Hence, Darwin in Australia, which is likely to join forces with the US, could be an other option for replenishment.

Europe's Role in an East Asian War
Polar Route (Wikipedia)

Through the Polar Route (a route European airlines used while Soviet airspace was closed) and with aerial refueling or stops in Canada and Alaska, Britain could also deploy some of its Eurofighters to Japan. In consequence, Britain would be capable of doing, at least, something.

The question mark is, if Britain is willing to take action. Surely, UKIP’s Nigel Farage would not hesitate a minute to use the broad public reluctance to expeditionary endeavors for his’ own means. As in case of Syria, a lack of public support at home could prevent the UK from a military involvement. It would be hard for any UK Government to sell to the British voter to cut back public spending at home while signing checks for the Royal Navy heading towards East Asian waters.

France would not make a difference

Europe's Role in an East Asian War
French frigate in Bora-Bora 2002 (Wikipedia)

Beside the US, France is the world’s only navy with a permanent presence through bases in all three oceans. Although, with one frigate, France’s Pacific presence of surface warships is relatively small. The one French Tahiti-based frigate deployed to an East Asian theater would not make a difference, but be a rather small show of force.

Like Britain, France permanently operates warships in the Indian Ocean, which it could also deploy to East Asia. Its nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle and SSN would also be able to tour beyond Singapore, however with a relatively long reaction time.

Paris’ main hurdle would be the same as London’s: The lack of public support. Le Pen would do exactly the same as UKIP and mobilize publicly against a French engagement and, thereby, against the government. Moreover, France has not the money necessary for any substantial and high-intensity engagement. In addition, a weak president like Hollande would fear the political risks. Given the operation ends in a disaster for the French, e.g. with the Charles de Gaulle sunk by the Chinese, Mr. Hollande would probably have to resign. Hence, do not expect an active role of France during an East Asian conflict.

No role for NATO and EU 

On paper, NATO, with its Standing Maritime Groups, seems to be capable of deploying relevant naval forces across the globe. In practice, however, any mission with a NATO logo needs approval of 28 member states. Due to NATO’s present pivot to Russia, many members would object any new NATO involvement outside the Euro-Atlantic Area. As the US prefers coalitions of the willing and capable anyway, there would be no role for NATO in an East Asian war.

In addition, there is also no role for the EU. Since 2011, the rejections each year to the EU for observing the East Asia Summit are showing Brussels’ enduring strategic irrelevance in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, neutral EU members, like Sweden and Austria, would never allow any active involvement. It is even questionable, if EU members could agree on a common political position or sanctions – something they have already failed to do often enough.

Dependent on the size and kind of US response, smaller European countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway may join forces with the US Navy and send single vessels through the Panama Canal into the Pacific or replace US warships on other theaters. This is not far from reality, because these countries did already sent warships into the Pacific for the RIMPAC exercise. However, their only motivation would be to use these deployments to make their voices better heard in Washington.

What would Germany do?

First of all, Germany is the enduring guarantee that, when confronted with major war in East Asia, NATO and EU will do nothing else than sending out press releases about their “deep concern”. Being happy that ISAF’s end terminates the era of large expeditionary deployments, Germany’s political class would never approve an active military role in East Asia – left aside that Germany would not be able to contribute much, anyway.

Europe's Role in an East Asian War
Sino-German Summit 2012 (Source)

Germany would first and foremost defend its trade relationships with China, which is in its national interests. Thus, the much more interesting question is, if the German government would develop the will to take on the initiative for a diplomatic solution. Germany has very good relationships with the US, China, Japan and South Korea. Vietnam and other South East Asian countries have frequently expressed greater interest in deeper cooperation with Germany.

Hence, Germany has the political weight necessary to work for a diplomatic solution. The question is whether German politicians would be willing to work for that solution themselves. Most probably, Berlin’s press releases would call for the United Nations and the “International Community” (whoever that would be in such a scenario) to take action.

What Germany could do and what would get approval at home, is to implement measures of ending hostilities and re-establishing peace – maybe by an UN-mandated maritime monitoring mission or by the build-up of a new trust-creating security architecture.

Europe’s limits

Europe's Role in an East Asian War

The debate about a European role in an East Asian major war is largely hypothetical. Nevertheless, it teaches us three relevant lessons.

First, we see how politically and militarily limited Europe already has become in the early stages of the 21st century. Given current trendscontinue, imagine how deep Europe’s abilities will have been sunk in twenty years.

Second, the main reasons for Europe’s limits are the lack of political will, public support and money. Europe’s march to irrelevance is not irreversible. However, it would need the political will for change and an economic recovery making new financial resources available

Third, we are witnessing an increasing European geopolitical and strategic irrelevance beyond its wider neighborhood. In reality, Europe’s role in an East Asian war would be nothing else but words.

Author Biography
Felix Seidler is a security analyst who runs his own blog, Seidler’s Sicherheitspolitik, from which this article has been republished. You can read more about him here.

Cover image ‘Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring in the South China Sea‘ by the Ministry of Defence