Archive for June, 2010

And another in this series, this time at the Pakistani pavilion. The subject of China-Pakistan is something that I have a longer piece coming out about soon – have been doing some interesting research on the topic while I am out here.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Pakistan pavilion

By Raffaello Pantucci – 21 June 2010 9:15AM

The Pakistan pavilion drew something of a crowd (I waited roughly five minutes, in contrast to what I understand were hours for the British pavilion, and absolutely no wait for the DPRK one), though inside it is mostly a selection of scenic pictures from around Pakistan and some interesting displays highlighting various parts of the nation – including a rather creepy looking dummy onto which the face of Benazir Bhutto is projected giving a speech.

Much effort has been put into emphasizing the importance of the Sino-Pak relationship, with pictures of various leaders meeting over the ages, a large display of some sort of joint mango project and finally, this amusingly out of focus picture of the Gawardar seaport, described under the picture as being, ‘the symbol of Pakistan China friendship and cooperation’ (my friend posed alongside to highlight the lack of focus).

The two-floor space ends with a large bazaar selling all manner of things, including some rather unwieldy looking person-sized marble vases. The shop was doing quite brisk business.

Advertisements

This is posted a little late, as I just realized that it had been posted before the previous post about the DPRK pavilion. Also, having done this, I have now managed to get into the British pavilion. No matter, here it is now, more in this series coming.

Around the Shanghai Expo: British pavilion

By Raffaello Pantucci – 18 June 2010 9:41AM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

One of the more intriguing parts of the Shanghai Expo is to see the correlation between the queues at various pavilions and the effort that has been put into them. Who is it, exactly, that nations are trying to impress with their respective pavilions: the Chinese people or the Chinese government?

To try to better understand this, here are three examples of national pavilions. First up is the British Pavilion:

As the picture suggests, it is a pretty extraordinary building, which looks like a real-life optical illusion. Designed to be a large seed repository, I was actually unable to get inside due to the enormous queue (and I went on a day when there were not that many people around). From reading online, however, it looks like it is really focused on cities, environmentalism and the upcoming Olympics.

All of which is in contrast to the curiosity-seekers favorite, the DPRK pavilion, which, oddly enough, is located adjacent to the Iranian one. Clearly the layout was designed by someone with a sense of humor. The North Korea pavilion is the subject of the next post.

This is a slight change of pace from recent stuff. For those who don’t know, I spend a lot of time in Shanghai these days where the World Expo is in full swing. I have been going there a fair bit, and was asked by the Lowy Institute of Australia’s Interpreter blog to write some short posts for them on some of the curious pavilions there. Here is the first, looking at the North Korean pavilion. More are coming (I have been to quite a few now) – and I am going to be going back and forth to the Expo, so feel free to leave comments requesting others if you have any specific ones you are interested in.

Around the Shanghai expo: DPRK pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 18 June 2010 3:11PM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

There is absolutely no queue outside the DPRK pavilion. The site is dominated by a large picture on one wall of Pyongyang looking alarmingly empty, with a Juche pillar in front and ‘Paradise for People’ emblazoned across the top. Television screens around the side show scenes of warfare interspersed with what look like 1980s era shots of students diligently learning. There are few pictures of the Dear Leader, and the final inexplicable set piece is a giant white fountain with dancing babies in it.

The whole thing has a surreal tinge to it and you have to wonder what they are trying to project. The majority of Chinese I saw inside appeared headed directly for the exit and the attendant with the national stamp (you can purchase Expo ‘passports’ which you can then get stamped at the various pavilions – they are very popular and in a number of smaller pavilions people appear to literally run through with no interest in the nation at hand, eager only to collect the stamp), though a few seem struck with a curiosity about the place.

It’s hard to know what kind of soft power is being projected here by the DPRK, but it is certainly not working as well as the British pavilion.

Now on to the Pakistani pavilion, which is designed something like an old frontier fort. That’s the subject of the last post in this series.

Another book review in Terrorism and Political Violence Journal, this time looking at Alison Pargeter’s The New Frontiers of Jihad: Radical Islam in Europe, an interesting and ambitious book which attempts to give a recent history to jihadism in all of Europe. Maybe it focuses a bit too much on the disaffection narrative, but a valuable piece of work.

The review is, I’m afraid, behind a firewall. However, for those with institutional access it can be found here.  I am actually in the process of trying to restore my institutional access, so anyone who reads this and has a password they are willing to share with me, it would be hugely appreciated!

A rather long title for my latest piece for the Jamestown Foundation, this time based on a (relatively) recent Europol Annual report. The report highlights a number of interesting trends that are often overlooked, which would probably merit a lot closer attention than they actually get. Maybe once I clear some of my current backlog I can focus on this – in the meantime, I would welcome any pointers for interesting things to read about other forms of terrorism in Europe.

Europol Report Suggests Separatism Rather than Islamism Constitutes Biggest Terrorist Threat to Europe

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 22

June 4, 2010 07:29 PM Age: 2 days

By: Raffaello Pantucci

Europol, a European Union law enforcement agency dedicated to improving the effectiveness and cooperation of member states’ security agencies, released its annual report on terrorism in Europe on April 28. [1] The report provides an overview of the current situation regarding terrorism in Europe and shows that while incidents of terrorism across the Union appear to be diminishing, “the threat emanating from terrorist groups remains real and serious.” [2]
While the actual numbers seem to indicate that separatist and other forms of terrorism pose a larger threat in Europe, “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most Member States.”  In fact, Europol only tracked one effective Islamist terrorist attack in Europe during 2009 – Mohammed Game’s unsuccessful attempt to carry out a suicide bombing on a Milan military barracks – in contrast to 237 attacks defined as separatist, 40 attacks by left-wing groups and an additional 124 attacks in Northern Ireland (for Mohammed Game’s attack see Terrorism Monitor, November 19, 2009). There were also a smattering of right-wing attacks, single issue attacks and attacks with no definable political orientation. [3] Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s unsuccessful attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit is repeatedly identified in the report as evidence of the threat from Islamist networks in Europe and in particular of “how the E.U. can be used as a platform for launching attacks on the United States.”

Overall, the number of attacks is down by 33% from 2008. This trend is also reflected in the number of arrests, which are down 22% from 2008 (with 587 arrested in 13 member states in 2009), and down 30% from 2007. The majority of arrests were of individuals involved in separatist groups, while the number of individuals arrested in relation to Islamist groups was down from 187 in 2007 to 110. It is worth noting that these figures do not include the UK, which according to the Home Office arrested 201 people from January to September 2009. This resulted in charges against 33% of those arrested, though it is not clear what their political orientations were. [4] In the Europol report, France (37), Italy (20), and Spain (40) marked the highest number of arrests related to Islamist terrorism.

But while the threat from Islamist terrorists is seen as important, it seems clear that on a daily basis it is separatist and other forms of terrorism which pose the most regular threat to European security. The Basque separatist group ETA laid claim to the most deadly attacks in 2009, killing four police officers in two separate attacks (part of some 14 separate attacks the group carried out in Spain), while two British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland during the course of a year which saw some 124 separate attacks in the province by Loyalist or Republican factions.

Nevertheless, Europol’s assessment of the threat from separatist groups is sanguine in contrast to the growing threat that is seen from left-wing and anarchist groups. Some 40 such attacks were reported in 2009, an increase of 43% from the previous year (and part of a year-on-year trend) and included the death this year of a police officer in Greece. While many attacks by such groups are characterized as spontaneous, Europol highlights a “growing willingness” by such groups “to confront right-wing activists and police,” noting that “the ability to translate violent ambitions into action seems to have grown stronger.” Another growing menace is seen in the increased criminal activities by animal rights extremists which are “expanding throughout Europe,” while the threat from right-wing extremists remains a running theme with some evidence of attempted attacks and training in Europe. However, far-right groups appear to find it hard to maintain coherence, with the greatest threat from this ideology seen in “individuals motivated by extreme right-wing views, acting alone” rather than existing networks or groups. Nevertheless, Europol concludes that activities by all of these groups “are developing a transnational character” and “are now becoming more serious.”

The drivers for this ongoing din of menace are not particularly touched upon in the report, though some thoughts are offered as to why Islamist terrorism continues to pose such a large threat, while in practice seeming less threatening than separatist terrorism. The internet is referred to as an important driver in the growing trend towards Islamist terrorist activities “perpetrated by self-radicalized and often self-instructed individuals,” but the existence of terrorist safe-havens outside the E.U. as locations for training are perceived as posing a continuing threat.

Islamist terrorism clearly remains Europe’s primary counterterrorism preoccupation, but as the continent watches its economy falter, security assessors have started to worry about what the resulting impact might be in terms of political extremism. Europol’s annual accounting of trends across Europe shows that a possible spike in left, right, anarchist and single issue terrorism might be a possible result, something which is likely to only further distract already stretched security services.

Notes:

1. For the official press release: www.europol.europa.eu/index.asp. The full report can be found at:www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TESAT2010.pdf.
2. Earlier Europol Reports were discussed in Terrorism Monitor, May 1, 2008 and May 8, 2009.
3. Due to differences in counting and measuring, the United Kingdom is not included within the Europol numbers. Consequently, they statistics are frequently listed separately in the report.
4. “Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes and stops & searches,” Home Office Statistical Update, February 25, 2010,rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/hosb0410.pdf .

Another post over at FreeRad!cals, this time drawn from a good article I read on a plane. It particularly struck me as it sparked off a long conversation about these issues with someone who really usually is not engaged in them – so it reached out. In retrospect it feels a little unfinished at the end, but oh well.

Bruce Hoffman in the National Interest

Filed under: Terrorism

Counter-terrorism sage Bruce Hoffman has an article in the latest issue of the National Interest which I would recommend as a sanguine assessment of the threat that the U.S. faces from domestic Islamist terrorists.

The article opens with a cold-eyed assessment based on insider conversations of the intelligence disaster that took place around Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to bring down an airliner in December 2009. Highlighting a number of missed connections that were likely in part for Admiral Denny Blair’s resignation recently, the main point appears to be that the dots were simply not put together in time to stop Abdulmutallab getting on the plane in Amsterdam. Apparently, preparations had been built around the assumption that AQAP was about to launch an attack on a U.S. target abroad, not that an attack was about to be launched on the homeland.

The broader point of the article, however, is the lack of imagination which has led the U.S. to treat a tactic as a strategy (Predator strikes) and a mistaken belief that America was somehow immune to the sort of domestic radicalization which has become the primary preoccupation of many European planners. A list of events, plots, and groups is provided showing how short-sighted this analysis has been, showing how links to various AQ affiliates can be found in a long list of plots, as well as a larger pool of low-level attempts all carried out by American citizens. A lack of imagination which is also found in the inability to recognize that AQ is a multifaceted organization with many different locations and iterations, rather than a monolith which can be focused on in an organized fashion in one location at a time, “we rivet our attention on only one trouble spot at a time, forgetting that Al Qaeda has always been a networked transnational movement.”

This is coupled with an ongoing failure to admit that the Predator strategy which is regularly trumpeted as crippling Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks has done nothing to stem the flow of foreigners going to train in the camps in Pakistan (he cites a figure of about 100 who have graduated from the camps and now returned home). Something that is only a tactic appears to have become the only show in town when it comes to strategic planning in addressing the threat from Al Qaeda in Pakistan. As has been repeatedly said by numerous experts, it is unlikely that you will be able to kill your way of this problem. As Hoffman puts it: “until we dissemble the demand side….we will never be able to staunch the supply side.”

So simply hammering AQ or its affiliates in local insurgencies abroad is not going to get rid of the problem, especially as the ideology continues to appear to have deep resonance amongst a community of individuals living in the West. Management is key, and making sure that we are able to contain the problem from exploding as it did in the case of Abdulmutallab or some of the other plots that have managed to come to fruition in the U.S., is likely the best we can do in terms of stopping AQ or the ideology it inspires. This is not going to eradicate the problem in the immediate term, but neither is the current approach. But admitting to this will hopefully open doors which maybe lead in a better direction.

There was one point in the article which bothered me, which was when he refers to Abdulmutallab’s profile as defying “conventional wisdom about the stereotypical suicide terrorist being poor, uneducated and provincial.” My question would be: whose conventional wisdom is this still? Given the laundry list of well-educated and assimilated terrorists, who out there still sees simpletons from the provinces as the main incubator of radicalization in the West? I do not actually disagree with what Professor Hoffman says, but it bothers me that there might still be those out there looking for such a profile.

One final point which struck me as interesting is the assertion that Lone Wolves might be part of a strategy by AQ to “flood already-stressed intelligence systems with ‘noise’.” The suggestion, if I am reading it correctly, is that low-tech attacks by “lone wolves and other jihadi hangers-on,” are more coordinated than one might think and are in fact an effort to keep security planners busy and distracted from focusing on serious directed plots from abroad.