Posts Tagged ‘UK election’

My latest for HSToday, though a bit belatedly posted. A quick overview of the debate about a shift in counter-terrorism policy in the UK.

By Raffaello Pantucci

02/25/2011 (12:00am)
Nine months on the job, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government finally announced its long awaited review of its counterterrorism policy. He used a keynote speech at the annual Munich Security Conference to advance the ideas that underpin the government’s renewed direction for combating international terrorism.


Cameron said the problem Britain faces “cannot be ignored or contained,” but rather must be confronted “with confidence” by way of addressing “the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries.”

The Prime Minister’s bold language masked a long-standing internal debate in the UK about how to confront the threat of international terrorism within the kingdom.

Cameron’s address was the culmination of a series of policy announcements on counterterrorism that started with a discussion in Parliament on January 20 that focused on the prickly issue of detention without charge.

Under the old system, police could detain a person for up to 28 days without charging him of anything while authorities attempted to assemble a case against the person.

Every seven days the individual would be brought before a judge who would adjudicate on their continued detention, but the principle was that in increasingly complex cases, police would need more time to dig through the reams of documents and data that police were turning up in the process of their terrorism investigations.

Not only was this process controversial, but both ruling parties had complained loudly about it.

Announcing its cessation of the policy and a return to previous legislation that gave police only 14 days, Minister for Immigration, Damien Green, said “since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days, despite many terrorists arrested since then … I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit.”

A week later, Home Secretary Theresa May, delivered a more comprehensive announcement to the House on the government’s counterterrorism policy.

May highlighted that, in addition to the change in pre-charge detention, the government also was changing the policies on control orders to focus on surveillance rather than house arrest. It also was going to give the new policy a two-year shelf life; restricting use of stop and search powers to instances when there is an immediate threat; and to stop councils from using surveillance techniques without first clearing them with a magistrate.

Contentious issues like the further proscription of groups like Hizb ut Tahrir, the use of phone intercepts in court and further defining what can be constituted as terrorism or promotion of terrorism, were, in the end, not concluded. Further analysis of these issues apparently is required.

While he was in Munich, Cameron announced that “under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives … we’ve failed to provide a vision of a society.”

The policy that had allowed non-violent extremists to flourish and to receive public funds had failed and, “instead of ignoring this extremist ideology,” the government now must “confront it, in all its forms,” Cameron stated.

Calling for the rebirth of a British identity, the Prime Minister said, “instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.”

Cameron’s speech awakened a heated debate in the British commentariat, where, on one hand, individuals like Douglas Murray, a prominent rightwing commentator and director of the Center for Social Cohesion, spoke of “Europe’s mainstream party leaders” finally “realizing what others have long noticed: Multiculturalism has been the more pernicious and divisive policy pursued by Western governments since World War II.”

On the other hand, Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, a professor at the University of Sussex and a skeptic of the government’s counterterrorism policy, decried the speech.

“By blaming ‘state multiculturalism’, Cameron is … missing the point,” Ahmed said. The real issue, he continued, is deepening inequalities, something that will “deepen under coalition cuts” and “an interventionist foreign policy that has been heavily disfigured under the influence of short-sighted (and self-interested) US geostrategy.”

In a radio interview following the speech, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said, “again, it just seems the Muslim community is very much in the spotlight, being treated as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.”

The opposing views provide a snapshot of the tense debate that’s taking place in the UK regarding its shift in counterterrorism policy. In the midst of the Prime Minister’s announcement, Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C., the outgoing head of Parliament’s Independent Review of certain Terrorism Legislation, issued his final report on control orders. The report concluded that the cumulative effect of Britain’s counterterrorism legislative architecture is “to make the UK a safe haven for some individuals whose determination is to damage the UK and its citizens.”

While the government dismissed this as emotive language, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats who had vigorously campaigned against a wide range of counter-terrorism policies, was obliged to defend himself against accusations of having completely reversed his position on a number of counterterrorism issues.

The cumulative effect of the counterterrorism review is going to be hard to measure in any practical way. Already some entities that were previously receiving funding for counterterrorism under the banner of preventing violent extremism, have announced that their funding will be cut.

Meanwhile, other issues are being sidestepped. For example, the ongoing inability of Britain to deport individuals wanted on terrorism charges to the US is not addressed in the review.

In the weeks prior to the recent varied announcements about changes to UK counterterrorism policies, a British judge announced it would be permissible for Abid Naseer – a Pakistani accused of having been involved with the network that allegedly supported Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American who pled guilty to trying to carry out a suicide bombing on New York’s subway – to be deported to the US to face charges.

But there is no evidence that this has actually happened, or is going to happen anytime soon.

So, while Cameron has finally laid out his markers on how he plans to counter terrorism in the UK going forward, and while there is a clear rhetorical shift, it still is unclear that there’s been much practical change.

A new piece for Chatham House’s magazine The World Today, drawing on a topic that has come up repeatedly during interviews with academics in China. The fact that they love British foreign policy so much. It is sometimes hard to tell whether they are simply flattering me with these sorts of statements, but I feel like there is something more to it. The UK’s approach does seem to hit a lot of buttons which, at least in my mind, make sense to the Chinese. More on this topic as my work on EU-China progresses. As usual, thoughts, comments, etc, welcome. The l

Britain and China: Being Friendly

Raffaelo Pantucci, December 2010

The World Today, Volume 66, Number 12

Adobe PDF documentDownload article here

Amongst the strangest sights of the recent Shanghai Expo was the British seed cathedral pavilion. Brilliantly simple in design, it stood out for touching on environmentalism whilst hovering architecturally like a real-life optical illusion. It was also one of the most popular pavilions, with long queues reflecting curiosity about the space, but also the positive light in which China sees Britain.

As with any bilateral relationship, the Sino-British one has gone through its awkward phases. Some in China still blame the troublesome Tibet question on Britain. And it was former Energy Minister, and now Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who was amongst the most vociferous in casting the blame on China for the inconclusive result of last year’s Copenhagen climate conference. But at the same time, this has not hurt the overall thrust of the bilateral partnership which has largely remained positive. So much so that a frequent question from Chinese academics is whether there is some way the overall European Union-China relationship can be remolded to look more like the British approach?

What China appears to like about the British way of doing things can broadly be captured around three main poles: consistency; focus on what matters: trade; and a willingness to do the diplomatic dance around face – or mutual selfrespect – to which the Chinese attach so much importance. From Beijing’s perspective, the point is a bilateral relationship founded on stability with an underlying focus on economic pragmatism.

Britain has recognized the importance of this approach to China – one of its Beijing diplomats described the principle underlying strategy as ‘no big surprises.’ And this was laid out clearly in September last year in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office strategy paper: ‘The UK and China: a framework for engagement.’ The new government shows no evidence of shifting from this. Prime Minister David Cameron was quite categorical when he said in Beijing, ‘on this vital point [the relationship with China] there is absolute continuity between my government and the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.’

Mission To Trade

Enmeshed with this consistency is the message that trade is the key element in the British-China bilateral relationship. The strategy paper is quite clear in ‘getting the best for the UK from China’s growth’ and persuading China ‘to see the UK as a global hub…boosting our business, educational, scientific and cultural gains from the bilateral relationship.’

In his preface, then-Foreign Secretary David Miliband quite baldly states: ‘there are, of course, major economic benefits from our relationship.’ On his most recent trip to China, Cameron brought with him 43 leaders of industry, four cabinet colleagues and announced before he left that ‘this is a vitally important trade mission.’

This economic focus is not something which is restricted to Britain’s approach to China, with the new administration in London giving its ambassadors ‘greater responsibilities for promoting UK business abroad’ and elevating the role of the Department for Trade and Industry in foreign posts. Something that is easily comprehensible to the gross domestic product (GDP) growth-obsessed Chinese. For them, economic growth is key to ensuring their nation’s tidy emergence on the world stage and the party’s ongoing ability to govern. It is therefore understandable and reassuring that London prioritises this equally.

Chancellor George Osbourne was the first member of the new British cabinet to visit China, declaring ‘if you’re looking to answer the big question for Britain, which is where the growth is going to come from in the next few years, I think export – and exports to an economy the size of China – is one place we should be looking.’ On the eve of Cameron’s arrival, the Chinese press was full of headlines that ‘Business draws Cameron to Beijing.’

The British press on the other hand largely focused on whether Cameron was going to raise the question of human rights and the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, highlighting the problem with the trade approach. Much to the dismay of activists, Britain has repeatedly shown itself willing to do the diplomatic dance required to pander to the Chinese diplomatic obsession with face.

This expresses itself in a number of ways. For example, while in 2008 the world watched as rioters in Lhasa were aggressively put down and protestors took to the streets around the world, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, like most European leaders,met the Dalai Lama. However, unlike President Nicolas Sarkozy of France or German Chancellor Angela Merkel who saw him in their offices, Brown talked to the exiled Tibetan leader at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The point was to recognise his religious status rather than a political one.

Similarly, towards the end of the year, the British government clarified that it, ‘like every other EU member state, and the United States…regard[s] Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.’ The statement went on to highlight that this was not a shift, but instead a clarification as previous official language which was based on ‘the outdated concept of suzerainty.’

Apparently unprompted, the clarification was very well received in China at the end of a year in which the country had faced a lot of criticism of its Tibet policies. In both cases, the British government felt some level of domestic criticism. The public perception was that the government had capitulated on the sensitive Tibet issue to curry favour with Beijing.

Kernel of Concern

Problematically, after all these careful approaches, late last year China executed British citizen Akmal Shaikh on drugs charges following repeated official and non-official pleas to have his mental health examined more closely. Everyone up to the Prime Minister reached out to Beijing in the case and was rebuffed; something which would seem to belie any preferential relationship.

In such actions lie the kernels of concern that underlie British public wariness towards China. A recent German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Trends poll showed how Britons are amongst those with the most positive attitudes towards China in Europe, but at the same time, a poll by ICM highlighted that three quarters believed that protecting human rights in Tibet was as important as maintaining trade links.

While China might appreciate the fact that the Shaikh case did not seriously damage Sino-British relations, within the issue lie the seeds that might eventually derail the positive tenor of relations.

While diplomats say they are able to discuss sensitive human rights issues in a formal setting with their Chinese counterparts and that this is an achievement and shift on he Chinese part, there is little evidence this discussion is resulting in any particular changes in Beijing.

The same can be said for non-proliferation or climate change; issues which British foreign policy supposedly places at the heart of its agenda. China has made moves, but it is unclear they are the product of British requests or necessarily in the direction it would want. Beyond trade – which China continues to do with anyone and remains imbalanced firmly in Beijing’s favor – it is unclear exactly what Britain gets for its friendly approach.

With the conclusion of the Expo, the seed cathedral has been dismantled. In a show of popularity, it took merely two minutes for eight thousand seeds to be sold at an online auction site in China. It remains to be seen whether these seeds will blossom into a more comprehensive bilateral relationship.

Raffaelo Pantucci, visiting scholar, Shanghai Acadamy of Social Sciences, working on a project on EU-China Relations as an EU STFP Fellow

A rather long-lost post finally is up at Free Rad!cals – this one exploring an issue which clearly needs deeper research. I have heard less of it of late, but I recall when the financial crisis first hit, hearing about the possible risks in quite alarming language from someone in government.

It has become something of an article of faith to say that poverty and economic misfortune are not drivers of terrorism. This seems a sensible conclusion to reach when one considers the volume of poverty and misery in the world and the relatively small volume of terrorists that emerge from it. Were poverty truly a determinant of a predilection for terrorist radicalization then theoretically speaking there would be far more terrorists in this world than there are.

But at the same time, it seems clear that there is some sort of correlation between social deprivation and radicalization – even if only from the perspective that it often appears as a constant in communities where radicalization seems able to take root (though of course this is not always the case). This is a difficult correlation to understand as it is not one that appears to exist on a steady or universal gradient, but it is clearly plays some sort of a role in the radicalization picture.

Understanding this question, however becomes increasingly salient as we enter ever tighter economic times, as theoretically speaking we are increasing one of the possible drivers. The core point is: are we are going to see an increase in radicalization amongst communities as they feel the economic squeeze?

One possible vision of the consequent trends can be seen in the recent annual Europol report on terrorism trends in the EU (which I wrote about for the Jamestown Foundation). Amongst other things, it highlighted a growing level of concern about left-wing and anarchist radicalization: “In 2009, the total number of left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks in the EU increased by 43% compared to 2008 and more than doubled since 2007.”

These trends are discernable at a wider level too: the emergence in the UK of far-right groups like the English Defence League appears to at least in part be the product of social disaffection stirred up by disenfranchisement. Rioting in Greece has taken an increasingly violent turn and there has also been a more general increase in anarchist violence and extremist activity. And German officials have expressed concern about the discovery of an 80-page pamphlet entitled “Prisma” which offers ideas for bomb-making, avoiding detection by police and other tips for urban guerrillas. They have also marked a 53% jump in left-wing attacks in 2009 which has included some large scale acts of vandalism and violence.

All of which would point to an increase in radicalization amongst communities that do not appear to be so directly influenced by the Al Qaeda narrative. So does this mean that the poor economic climate is directly contributing to radicalization in general: youths are becoming angry at the system and fighting against it, is the free time they are left with due to their economic disenfranchisement giving them the time to indulge in such activity? Well, possibly, but it seems as though it would be best not to leap to any conclusions about this quite yet or any draconian reactions. Anyway, what exactly would be the abrupt security reaction be: pour security funding into economic stimulus packages?

At the end of the day what we might assess as the underlying causes of some of the increase in right/left/anarchist violence may indeed be the economic crisis, but care must be paid to not exaggerate our response to this particular cause over others. As previous experience has shown, an exaggerated response leads to mistakes the impact of which is impossible to measure.

My latest for HSToday, looking at the British election fall-out from a counter-terrorism perspective (following my earlier post about the manifestos). This subject hopefully will get more interesting, rather than continue to fester as it is at the moment with no new ideas. Though I suppose I need to start to developing some good new ones too. Any thoughts or reactions appreciated as ever.

UK Challenge: Depoliticizing Security

by Raffaello Pantucci

Monday, 17 May 2010

New coalition government must work to forge consensus on terror.

While much of the UK has been focused on what the implications will be of the first coalition government since the Second World War, the question of what this means for counter-terrorism policy has largely slipped under the radar. Last time there was a political handover like this in Britain; terrorists attempted an attack, immediately setting the headlines for the new government.

Fortunately, so far, Britain has been spared a repeat of the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow in late June 2007. However, the new coalition Conservative-Liberal government wasted no time in taking the pulse of the current threat level during the maiden meeting of the newly formed National Security Council. According to the official Downing Street report, during the session the Prime Minister “received briefings on the political and military situation in Afghanistan, including from his new National Security Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts and from the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Prime Minister was then updated on the wider UK security situation.”

Unlike the United States, the UK has only now created a special cabinet group which will become the decision-making focus of British security strategy and interests. The appointment of a senior civil servant, Sir Peter Ricketts, to the post of National Security Adviser was seen as a slight surprise, given the belief that this remit might be handed to Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who served as security adviser in the shadow Conservative cabinet. Ricketts, a long-time apolitical civil servant, has previously served as UK Ambassador to NATO, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and most recently as Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office. Dame Neville-Jones, another former Chairman of the JIC, instead assumed the role of Minister for Security.

The split appointment likely reflects the desire to impose some semblance of de-politicization to the area of security, which has otherwise largely been taken over by the Conservative side of the coalition. Cameron stalwarts William Hague at the Foreign Office and Liam Fox at Defence retain the roles they had shadowed. Other key security appointments include Theresa May to become Home Secretary; Conservative heavy-weight Ken Clarke to the role of Justice Minister and Eric Pickles to the role of running the Department for Communities and Local Government. A few Liberals received lower ranking appointments in relevant ministries, though no Liberals have been sent to the Home Office at all. Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the daughter of Pakistani migrants, was appointed to be Minister without Portfolio and Chairman of the Conservative Party, making her the first female Muslim to serve in Britain’s cabinet.

At the same time this almost complete Conservative domination of security policy (and counter-terrorism policy in particular) does not particularly cast a light on what changes might be on the way under the new administration. In an election that was largely dominated by domestic economic issues and the novelty of televised leadership debates, there was almost no mention of counter-terrorism policy. In their href=” “>manifestoes none of the three main parties identified any great changes in strategy though the Conservatives did say that they would ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir – following through on a threat first made by Prime Minister Blair in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings.

This does not necessarily presage some sort of grand agreement. As James Brandon of the Quilliam Foundation counter-radicalization think tank put it, “Over the past few years it has been clear that there are significant policy differences between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when it comes to the detail of counter-extremism strategy. Under a coalition government compromises will no doubt have to be made on both sides – although at the moment it is anyone’s guess as to what exactly these will be.”

Some of these guesses were answered in the grand agreement document that the coalition government published which highlighted a list of “civil liberties” which they felt had been suppressed under Labour. Key amongst these was the announcement of a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill” which would scrap the ID cards scheme, re-establish the “protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury,” ensure anti-terrorism legislation was not misused, and improve regulation of internet, email and CCTV storage. While both parties raised the question of what to do about controversial control orders in their manifesto’s, there is no mention of it here suggesting the possibility of future clashes over the topic. Overall there is an interesting confluence in opinion between the two parties appears to have been found around the issue of infringements in civil liberties that many perceive were allowed under the previous government in the pursuit of security in the UK.

Looking back further, the Conservative party had in the past proposed to  “conduct a review of the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Strategy, which is supposed to stop vulnerable people from becoming terrorists but which has been accused of spying on innocent Muslims.” The PVE strategy is intended to be the cornerstone of the long-term British answer to countering terrorism, but it has of late lagged.. It remains unclear how the new coalition government will take this forwards, though discussions with officials in the UK in the year before the election highlighted a general sense that a change of government was imminent and that some accounting of how counter-terrorism money was being spent was highly likely.

For the US the major concern is no doubt the perceived anti-Americanism of the Liberal Democrat party. This has in fact been overplayed, and in counter-terrorism terms, the biggest concern was likely to be the threatened Liberal Democrat “full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping.” The complete lack of any mention of it thus far is not necessarily indicative of the fact that it is going to go away, but it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are simply not going to have the upper hand when it comes to governing counter-terrorism policy and its pursuit.

Beyond counter-terrorism, Europe remains one of the major sticking points in the coalition, with a deeply Euro-skeptic wing of the Conservative party unlikely to sit well with the pro-European Liberal Democrat party. For an America that is eager to see Europe stand strong together, this may prove an irritant, but the strategic centrality of the Anglo-American “special relationship” (especially to the Conservative Party) means that there is unlikely to be any major shift in transatlantic relations between the US and UK.

Raff Pantucci is a UK corrspondent for and frequent contributor to Homeland Security Today magazine.

My addition to the ongoing debate in the UK about the elections over at Free Rad!cals, this time to highlight the fact that counter-terrorism strategy appears to have fallen right off the table. It occurs to me that in fact, a similar point can be made about foreign policy in the debate. None of this is very inspiring for the future.

The Big Three Counter-Terrorism Strategies

Filed under: Terrorism, UK

Inspired by a post over at Kings of War which looked at the three big party’s defense proposals in their manifestos, I decided to perform a similar operation of the big three counter-terrorism proposals. As it turned out this was a pretty easy endeavor, given the almost complete absence of major shifts or proposals in any of them. To look at their respective proposals in alphabetical order:

– ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir and “close down organizations which attempt to fund terrorism from the UK”
– create a new National Resilience Team for Homeland Security
– (I have to confess that I could not find this in their manifesto,
but the BBC seem to think it is) review “the controversial control orders system”

– “we will develop our PREVENT strategy to combat extremism.”

Liberal Democrats
– scrap control orders
– reduce pre-charge detention to 14 days
– allow intercepts in court, make greater use of post-charge questioning.

All three seem to suggest that the police should take the lead in counter-terrorism, and all condemn torture (the Libdems want to launch a “full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping”). Afghanistan features in all three as linking a foreign threat to a domestic threat, while Pakistan is of greatest apparent concern to Labour – though all are concerned with unstable states as a threat to domestic security. Al Qaeda is only mentioned specifically by Labour. Aside from Labour, none of the parties discuss the allegedly all-important Preventing Violent Extremism strategy (and even Labour merely refers to it as listed above, without giving any more detail). In the debates, the topic has come up even less, with it merely being referred to within the context of Afghanistan.

Now on the one hand, it is worth remembering that for the two parties not in power, they do not have access to all of the intel that the government does and thus are potentially preparing blind. But at the same time, it is surprising that in essence all of the main parties have failed to present in their party manifesto’s anything substantial to address the threat of terrorism.

There are, in my mind, two answers to this: they either think that it is not a problem (or agree with the current strategy approach aside from the small tweaks they offer) and have thus omitted it consciously, or they have no idea what to do. Either option, however, offers the conclusion that they have no fresh ideas about what can be done to address a problem that senior police officers, politicians and security agents believe will remain with us “for a generation” and for which the budget has trebled since Labour have been in power (according to their own figures cited in the manifesto).

Of course, there is the possible conclusion that it is my personal fixation on the topic which is exaggerating the importance of its absence. Maybe in fact this is all a conscious effort to tone down the centrality or importance of counter-terrorism within the government’s duties, and thus maybe defuse some of the mythology around it. Still, if this is the really the case, then you would expect some greater acknowledgement of the choice given the fact that the government has been moving in the opposite direction, spreading counter-terrorism across an ever expanding number of agencies and departments.

To look at the specific proposals, the Liberal Democrat proposals seem most progressive, but at the same time, I wonder if they will not find themselves of a different view when they are in power and can see what I imagine is the intelligence that is bringing around the control order regime. Still, there is some substantial logic behind the premise that the government should prosecute or lift control orders and that the ongoing situation is not sustainable in the extended long term. If they are able to force the discussion about how to conclude this situation, then this is excellent news. In contrast, I remain unsure about the proposal to proscribe Hizb ut Tahrir. If it is implemented, I have a feeling it will merely increase the power and mystique of the organization with little substantial counter-terror benefit.