Archive for June, 2016

And a second post-Brexit article, this time for the Guardian, covering some of the same points but this time focused singularly on the far right and the implications for them for the Brexit vote. This has some depressing portents in the future for it, and lets hope that politicians and others can find ways to move us forwards.

Ignored by the authorities, emboldened by Brexit, Europe’s far right is surging

Rightwing extremists are a grave danger in themselves, let alone when you factor in their influence on mainstream politics, and on terrorism
Poles against migrants protest

The result of Britain’s referendum on EU membership has strengthened far-right activism across Europe. In the UK there have been reports of public racist abuse, while far-right-leaning parties across the continent have taken advantage of the situation to call for their own referendums. There is a danger that an already polarised political environment will become even more broken with some individuals choosing a path to violence in response.

Extreme rightwing terrorism has been a growing problem in Europe for some time. A recent study by a consortium led by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) highlighted that when looking at the phenomenon of “lone actor” terrorism in particular (terrorist acts conducted by individuals without any clear direction from an outside group), the extreme right wing was responsible for as many as Islamist extremists. And not all were random one-off killers – Anders Breivik was able to butcher 77 people in a murderous rampage in Norway. What was particularly worrying was the fact that these individuals sat at the far end of a spectrum of extremists that included elements closer to the mainstream.

In the runup to conducting his act of terrorism, Breivik claimed to have attended protests organised by the English Defence League (EDL), a group he admired for its stand against what he perceived as invading Muslim hordes in Europe. Founded in the UK in response to a perceived refusal by authorities to clamp down on the noisy extremist group al-Muhajiroun, the EDL became a grab bag of far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant protesters who would take to the streets. It spawned imitators in continental Europe.

The emergence of the EDL, however, came at a moment when more established European nationalist groups such as Front National in France, the British National party (BNP) or the Austrian Freedom party, all became prominent in the public conversation. Far-right nationalist xenophobic sentiment has always been a part of the European conversation, but the strengthening of these groups highlighted how much the ideas they represented had started to slip into the political mainstream, largely off the back of anger with the usual parties of power. But while the far right tried to move itself into the mainstream, its violent edge remained, and as the European debate on immigration and Muslims has become more pronounced, there has been a growth in incidents of extreme rightwing violence.

The response from security forces has been mixed. While we have seen an apparent increase in extreme rightwing violence, there has been less attention paid to it by authorities. In the RUSI-led research, a particularly striking finding was that in about 40% of cases of far-right extremists, they were uncovered by chance – the individual managed to blow himself up or was discovered while authorities conducted another investigation. By contrast, around 80% of violent Islamist lone actors were discovered in intelligence-led operations – in other words, the authorities were looking for them.

But it is easy to understand why the extreme right wing gets overlooked. Most examples are fairly shambolic lonesome individuals whose efforts to launch terrorist plots seem amateurish at best. But they are still attempting to kill fellow citizens to advance a political ideology. And in the case of lone actors, they are at least as lethal as their violent Islamist counterparts – in our dataset of 120 cases, even when one removed Breivik as an outlier, the extreme right wing was as lethal as violent Islamists.

The concern from this phenomenon must now be twofold. On the one hand, the increasing mainstreaming of a xenophobic anti-immigrant narrative will feed the very “clash of civilisations” narrative that groups such as al-Qaida and Isis seek to foster – suggesting that there is a conflict between Islam and the west which they are at the heart of. It will only strengthen this sense and draw people towards them.

But there is also the danger of frustrated expectations. The reality is that notwithstanding a rise in anti-immigrant feeling in Europe, the migrants will still come. Attracted by the opportunity and prosperity they see in Europe (which is often a huge improvement on the environment they came from), they will come to seek low-paying jobs – jobs that western economies will still need to fill and are not taken by locals, which offer better prospects than where they came from. This economic dynamic means that people will not necessarily notice a dramatic change in their material environment. Foreigners will continue to come and will continue to be a presence around them – providing a community to blame when individual economic situations do not change or feel like they are getting worse.

Here lies one of the more dangerous sides of this new European political environment. A polarised society which does not appear to materially change – frustrating those who feel like they have expressed their political will only to find it unanswered. The result, unless handled properly by the mainstream political community, is a potential for violence that has already reared its head brutally on the European continent, and unless carefully checked will do so again.

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It has been a pretty crazy moment, with all sorts of chaos raising its head in the wake of the Brexit decision. Have had a couple of pieces out on the topic, mostly focused on the narrow security threat aspect of it which it doesn’t strike me will change a huge amount. Here is the first of a couple of pieces on the topic for Newsweek.

How Brexit Could Strengthen ISIS’s Message of Hate

Xenophobia and the far right may be the biggest threat to security and could boost ISIS.

BY  ON 6/28/16 AT 6:47 PM

Paris attacks Eiffel Tower
A French soldier enforcing the Vigipirate plan, France’s national security alert system, is pictured on November 18, 2015 in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower, which is illuminated with the colors of the French national flag in tribute to the victims of the November 13 Paris attacks.JOEL SAGET/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Brexit has changed the European landscape overnight. Among the many questions and issues raised during the campaign was the potential for the vote to change the U.K.’s domestic security situation, in particular in response to the menacing threat of international terrorism. The reality is that in the wake of the vote, very little will change.

Many of the practical questions around counter-terrorism and national security had remained the domain of member states. This is not to say, however, that nothing will change—outside the EU, the U.K. will end up finding itself less able to influence and participate in European conversations that are ultimately focused on common threats. And there is the danger that the social tensions that the Brexit vote may exacerbate will spread across the Union and become a destabilizing force that will accelerate processes of disenfranchisement and radicalisation.

Subscribe now – Free phone/tablet charger worth over $60The fundamental question of intelligence sharing to address common threats is unlikely to change. Security agencies across the European continent have a close set of links that go far beyond the political tensions we are currently seeing playing out. All face a common threat from international extremist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda and are focused on disrupting and destroying it.

The U.K. in particular is perceived as a power that contributes greatly to this fight in terms of practical information and intelligence, as well as strategic thinking about how to deal with such threats. This is unlikely to change in the short to medium term. All are continuing to face the same threats and are focused on protecting life and disrupting terrorist networks, and therefore information sharing and practical information will continue to flow.

The negative side of the equation comes in with the potential loss of U.K. support and leadership in the emergent conversation about greater integration and the development of joint security functions. Europe has long benefited from British support and leadership on the topic of threats, with many looking to the U.K.’s CONTEST framework as a structure that they have tried to emulate in parts.

Similarly, the U.K.’s efforts on strategic communications to counter terrorism, and their support for Europol  both point to a leadership role that others will have to step into. It also means the U.K. will have a more limited ability to influence the debate and direction of these initiatives in Europe, a place which will remain of key strategic importance to the U.K.

But in many ways, the practicalities of mitigating common threats will continue to drive the U.K. to cooperate with European partners where necessary. Intelligence sharing will undoubtedly continue as appropriate, and we will continue to see joint operations to disrupt terrorist networks. Notwithstanding a certain level of awkwardness that might slip into some of these discussions and the practicalities that might be imposed if vehicles like the European Arrest Warrant are suspended with the U.K., security forces and agencies across the continent will continue to work together to counter these threats together.

There are also unintended and unpredictable security consequences, however. In the first instance, we have seen how there has both been a rise in xenophobic narratives and violence in the U.K. as well as a strengthening of far-right parties across the continent in the wake of the Brexit vote. These tensions may escalate into violence—creating a context where extreme right-wing terrorist groups may thrive. This is something that will not only exacerbate social tensions further, lead to possible deaths and a new threat for security agencies to deal with, but will also strengthen of the ‘clash of civilizations’ narratives that sit at the heart of ISIS and al Qaeda’s views of the world.

And finally, it is going to take many years to fully understand the consequences to the U.K.’s global security position in the wake of Brexit. In a world of growing superpowers, the U.K. has taken a step back from a potentially emergent one. Notwithstanding whatever agreement that might be reached between the U.K. and its European partners to understand what Brexit looks like in practice, the damage in some ways is done, and we have now seen the limits of pan-European cooperation and discussion. This will undoubtedly damage the bloc on the world’s stage and it will take some time for the full resonance or meaning of this to play out.

Ultimately, the practical security questions that trouble individual member states are unlikely to be damaged by Brexit, though the potential for social tensions to become exacerbated and lead to violence is going to be a growing concern. The bigger strategic questions about the future of Europe in the world and a common European security identity is going to come increasingly under question and face greater difficulties in a world that continues to have major strategic threats and dangers confronting it.

The question now is how both the remnant EU and the U.K. find ways of moving through this crisis as global players, rather than retrenching their attentions back home and becoming consumed by the hugely complex internal politics that have been thrown up by the Brexit crisis. For European security to be assured, the continent needs confident, strong and coordinated approaches to the world—be this under EU, NATO or other auspices.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies, Royal United Services Institute.

A new piece for an excellent source on all things on Eurasia, appropriately enough called Eurasianet. It is part of a series they have been running this week looking at China in the region, and have run a number of other excellent pieces after this. More on this topic as ever soon, and be sure to check out China in Central Asia for the bigger projects I continue to do on China’s push into Eurasia.

China’s Place in Central Asia

Xi Nazarbayev

First of a Five-Part Series

EurasiaNet is running a series this week looking at the state of relations between China and the five nations of former Soviet Central Asia. China expert Raffaello Pantucci opens the series with a survey of China’s role in the region. 

China’s rise in Central Asia marks one of the most consequential changes in regional geopolitics since the turn of the century.

China announced that it intended to be a major player in Central Asia back in September 2013, when Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech in Astana that inaugurated the “Belt and Road” vision — the most dominant expression of Chinese foreign policy from his administration. Yet this declaration notwithstanding, it remains unclear whether Beijing has a coherent vision for Central Asia. Instead, Beijing continues to grow into a role of regional prominence without a clear plan to manage the ramifications of its growing role.

The narrative of spreading Chinese influence throughout the region is not new. Indicators of China’s influence are plentiful. Markets are full of Chinese products, infrastructure is heavily built by Chinese firms with Chinese loans, leadership visits — either Chinese to the region or regional to China — are followed by announcements of massive deals being signed, and increasingly China is playing a more prominent role in regional security questions. Even so, China remains a hesitant regional actor, and is keen to continue casting itself as subordinate to Russia. Beijing is also eager to avoid becoming embroiled in inevitable regional economic and political complications.

Most recently, these complications have manifested themselves as protests in Kazakhstan, where locals have expressed anger at the government’s decision to change legislation governing foreigners’ ability to rent land for lengthy periods of time. Public anger is rooted mostly in concerns that Chinese firms will exploit this legislation to slowly lease ever larger tracts of Kazakhstani land. Such problems have arisen in the past. In 2009, for example, when President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced a leasing arrangement, Chinese and Tajik censors blocked references in the media to a similar deal in Tajikistan in 2011.

In other contexts, China finds itself embroiled in corruption scandals. The recently deposed prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, Temir Sariyev, departed under a cloud of bribery accusations connected mostly to a road-building contract won by Chinese firm Longhai. Similar suspicions are often voiced in other countries, though details tend to be elusive. And finally, China continues to be concerned about security threats connected to the region. Lower level criminality affects Chinese entrepreneurs in the region who are sometimes seen as a soft touch by local criminals, while the government continues to express concern about terrorist groups and networks that are believed to be active in the region.

On more strategic level, a major challenge for Chinese officials is related to perception. There is a persistent sense among experts and officials in Central Asia that China’s interests and investment in the region mask some sort of hidden agenda. Such wariness is often exacerbated by a belief that China is only interested in the region’s natural resources, or sees Central Asia merely as a conduit to more lucrative markets elsewhere.

Aware of the perception issue, China has sought to address it. During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Kyrgyzstan in May, he spoke to his counterpart Erlan Abdyldayev about the possibility of relocating Chinese factories to the country. In Uzbekistan, telecoms companies Huawei and ZTE have already realized the importance of this and established assembly plants there, while the Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group (XCMG) has sought to piggyback on the external construction push under the Belt and Road by building a factory in the country. In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, the government continues to hold out hope that the Special Economic Zones being developed at the Khorgos border crossing and elsewhere will turn into manufacturing hubs rather than just transit points for Chinese goods.

On the extractives front, China continues to be a major importer, though as Turkmenistan has discovered in the past year, China’s appetite for gas has its limits. While all the talk publicly has been about the pending realization of the trans-Afghan TAPI pipeline, signals are increasingly visible of further strings to the China-Central Asia pipeline being put on ice for the time being. And from the regional perspective, Central Asian capitals are growing as concerned about becoming reliant on the China market as they are about the steep drop in Russia’s economy.

The biggest driver of Chinese thinking towards Central Asia remains the Belt and Road. Highlighting the degree to which this is the lens through which Beijing views the region, Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his recent visit to Bishkek spoke of how China wanted to view the “SCO as a platform to speed up the docking of the Silk Road Economic Belt with the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union.” The local branch of the Belt and Road, the Silk Road Economic Belt, is an all-encompassing concept that at its heart is about improved connectivity, regional development and investment. It increasingly seems as though it is going to become the overarching umbrella through which China will engage with the region.

This is a mixed blessing for the region. Given the centrality of the Belt and Road and Silk Road Economic Belt to Xi Jinping personally, it is clear that Central Asia will continue to benefit from this attention going forward. But there remains a question about how the region will be able to capture some local benefit beyond simply transit fees. It is clear that China feels like it has a voice that it wants to express sometimes — most recently in the form of an angry outburst from the Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan about the difficulty his co-nationals have had in obtaining visas — but it remains uncertain what Beijing’s long-term vision for the region is.

The question for the Central Asian capitals is the degree to which they can shape China’s approach in a way that maximizes the benefits that they seek. Central Asian leaders also want China to take a greater degree of responsibility for some regional security questions. As the first stop on the ideologically central Silk Road Economic Belt, Central Asia will be a consistent point in Chinese foreign policy in the coming years. What the long-term ramifications of this are, however, remains to be seen.

Editor’s note: Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute and the co-editor of China in Central Asia

It has been a depressingly busy week for lone actor terrorism with atrocities in numerous places. In the wake of the events in Orlando, I wrote the below for the Times and there should be more to come specifically about the far right next week. Less on the media front, though spoke to the Financial Times about how to counter terrorism in cities ahead of the EuroCup, The Times after the US raised it terror threat level in Europe, and did some longer discussions with BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed show, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs about radicalisation and jihadis more broadly, and my home institution RUSI about the spate of attacks in this past week.

The Times masthead

Terror threat grows more random by the day

Recent Islamist attacks will renew calls for sweeping surveillance powers but the cure might be worse than the disease

The massacre of clubbers in Orlando at the weekend is not the first time that terrorists have targeted the gay community. In 1999, the right-wing extremist David Copeland left a nail bomb in the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London, that killed three people and injured about 70. In the weeks leading up to the attack, he had left devices targeting minorities in Brixton and Brick Lane that caused multiple injuries. Copeland, who had links to British far-right groups, said after his arrest that he wanted to spark a race war. His indiscriminate campaign showed how the ideology of the extreme right was aimed at the whole of society rather than any specific group.

There are similarities to be drawn with Islamic State. While the group has not yet taken concerted action against LGBT people in the West, it has executed dozens accused of homosexuality in Iraq and Syria. The fact that Orlando is the first attack of its kind outside the Middle East, therefore, is not for any lack of will on the part of Isis. It underlines the random way in which “lone actor” jihadists now pick their targets.

This approach was set out by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a senior Isis commander, in 2014. Calling for attacks on the movement’s foreign foes that would “turn their worldly life into fear and fire”, he said that there was no need to “ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.” This carte blanche electrified those drawn to Isis’s ideology. However, when your message is so omnidirectional, it will inspire not only hardened followers but also individuals with a range of motives — or illnesses. Take the case of Muhaydin Mire, who was convicted last week of trying to murder a man on the Underground while shouting that it was “for my brothers in Syria”. It emerged that he had been mentally unstable for some time and had been reading about Islamist ideology online.

When considering a response to such incidents, it is vital to remember that they can stem from a variety of motivations — from the personal to the ideological and all points in between — for which there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It becomes harder still when the targets chosen by Isis and lone actors can be so diverse: from football stadia to music venues, as well as attempted attacks on churches, public transport networks and bars. In 2014, Isis acknowledged Man Haron Monis’s attack on a Sydney coffee shop that led to three deaths including his own, even though he turned up for his attack with the wrong banner. In contrast they failed to acknowledge Yassin Salhi, another troubled man with a history of links to extremist groups, who decapitated his boss last year before trying to cause an explosion at the gas factory in Lyon where he worked. French authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of Isis, although no link with Salhi was ever uncovered. He hanged himself in prison before standing trial for murder.

This lack of clarity between terror groups and their foot soldiers is not actually as new as it might seem.

Al-Qaeda promoted the idea of lone wolves launching undirected attacks in its magazine Inspire, drawing on a methodology laid out by ideologue (and former London resident) Abu Musab al-Suri. And the far right has long called for lone wolves to rise up in their own societies and provoke race war by any means possible.

Other groups like the IRA, ETA or left-wing organisations during the 1970s were more structured but happy to use the broader community of radicals that were drawn by high-profile bomb attacks, assassinations or kidnappings.

There is, unfortunately, very little that can be done to counter the dissemination of terrorist ideology in our interconnected world.

Even countries with tight control of the internet such as China find it hard to prevent the spread of extremist messages to vulnerable or otherwise receptive minds.

And even if such control was possible, it is arguable that we would be doing the terrorists’ work for them by giving the state sweeping powers to monitor and control communications on a massive scale. While this is little comfort to those suffering in the wake of an attack such as Orlando, it is unclear that tightly-controlled societies are any better at dealing with terrorist threats than open ones. Instead, we should seek ways to distract those drawn to these messages in the first place (if they can be identified early enough), as well as continuing to attack the appeal of Isis and its ideology by degrading its capability on the ground.

European security agencies continue to worry about the possibility of an attack by Isis during the Euro 2016 tournament.

The only publicly disrupted plot was of a far-right Frenchman arrested coming back into his country from Ukraine, armed with guns and explosives intended for a series of attacks on synagogues, mosques, highways, bridges and football stadia. This underlines the increasingly random nature of terrorism. The goal is as much to sow shock and horror in the venues of everyday life as to bring attention to a specific cause.

Orlando joins the names on a long list of terrorist atrocities in the West since 9/11 and will, sadly, not be the last. Terrorist violence will continue to grow more indiscriminate.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)