Manchester and Munich, May 2016 – 2017: the question of ‘home-grown’ attacks.


Asky dividednother profoundly sad month for families, victims and those in security organisations trying to handle what appears to be ‘home-grown’ terrorist attacks.

As can be seen from popular as well as state reaction to these events we all must have the deepest condolences for the victims:  from the many in Manchester who were so tragically young and also other incidents present and past. For example, the fatality and less reported Munich stabbing a year on this month which may have been the first ‘home-grown’ as such ‘random’ murder in Germany.

Once again, the actions of a tiny minority impact upon the many and of course raises the question of what lies behind the murderous intent and how to prevent it.

It would be easy just to lay all this down to ‘criminal’ activity  within a ‘criminal gang’ but when driven by a value system, with a global, apparent ‘fundamentalist’ network, it all becomes so much more difficult: not least when new technologies allow  for bomb making to be transported with apparent relative ease.

No matter the specific tasks for state organisations, those who wish for wider security need to deepen the ‘trust’ and purpose across borders, and that also means reflecting seriously on multi-lateral organisations such as the EU and the wider Europe, which need more, not less, inter-cooperative effort.

After such horrors, this almost inevitably leads toward deeper questions including the dilemma between the rights of the individual and the rights of society when specifically linked to freedom of worship, cultural practise, economic competition and their policy relationship to the integrity of communities.

No matter the critics, the work of the late Samuel Huntington remains a keynote entry point for some analysts: what to do in a global world still divided with differences at such an extreme level? (See below)

We Europeans need to forge a way forward that embraces this question in the round. The negotiators of Brexit, – the EU and the UK – should be, for example,  very conscious of these issues bearing in mind Manchester and Munich and escape the normal political rhetoric if we are to shape a better space for all of us.The revelation that the Manchester bomber flew from Turkey through Dusseldorf just three days before the attack is telling.

The forthcoming meeting between President Trump and NATO and the EU representatives will be indicative of the  resolve. The first indicative meetings show tensions between the two sides of the Western alliance on both how to deal with Russia and NATO finance.

Nonetheless, let us all judge them by what they can achieve. It is relevant to all European societies and not just the wayward politics of the British constitution and Brexit or the over-arching uncompleted EU Lisbon treaty.




The European ‘data-society’ question and why it is important.

Eurostat 2016

Source: 29.4.2017

Today the EU-27 will establish its agreed guidelines for their side of the Brexit negotiations. The positions they enumerate will impact both the EU and the UK let alone a wider world. Naturally, getting the data right and in context is crucial in such matters. The trouble is that it’s not happening effectively. We may use the right data but in a lop-sided way both politically and economically. To top it all, this bias can be found in mainstream and other media reports with dire consequences.

Simply put, the headlines, including the politicians who over simplify them, are mistaken and distorting and even dangerous. Political and economic mistakes are being made on both sides as reality (the context on the ground)  hits this skewered, biased, clumsy political discourse.

An example from the UK side: alternative trade models to the EU are often used to justify a change in national, geo-political thinking.

The former UK Empire connections to the Commonwealth are often cited in various quarters but tracking and locating the data shows that this is wildly exaggerated. Good journalism picks up on this and is welcome but little of this type of thinking hits the popular media:

On the EU side, the statement that Northern Ireland could join the EU if it unites with Eire appears on the surface logical but actually is politically explosive and a direct attack against a sovereign state. In trade and political terms the island of Ireland represents a small percentage of the economic context but in political terms, with its old ties to Irish terrorism, this is meddling that could and would probably cost lives:

Why are these fundamental mistakes being made? The answer lies, in part, in the poor use of data and comparisons but most of all the narrow but ill-defined prism of over concentrated weight given to country comparisons when societies, all of them, are more complex and localised.

To counter this, the work of Eurostat is in this case exemplary.

Their regional analysis website is highly useful in exploring what is happening across the European continent: it analyses, through time and space, the development of the economy, population, health, education, labour market, tourism, digital economy and society, agriculture, transport, science and technology, and demography.

This work exposes two ‘truths’:

  1. Although Europe is made up of nation-states, how we live our lives is much more regional than any national discourse allows. The reality on the ground is much more fragmented than normally, nationally displayed: there are successful and not so successful regions. They interconnect. The democratic and economic rights of these regions are the bedrock upon which national consensus has to be forged. In other words, national statistics are too broad for most of us if we need to know what is really happening where we reside and how it all fits together.
  2. The European national political discourse is held by different constitutional formats which rely heavily on political parties. Those very same political parties which in the twenty-first century are patently unconnected to their constituencies (the Netherlands, the French presidential elections, the forthcoming German and Italian elections illustrate this) and are consequently out of touch: a national past-ideological political party system is too frail for consistency. It is leading to poor leadership.

In the end the Brexit negotiations will end : tautological but true. If the complications of political and economic discourse are difficult to grasp, the end must be negotiated with clarity. To help us we must expect that our media and our journalists come to terms with what is the regional data reality on the ground. Few are doing so.

They can start by looking at the Eurostat data before committing to their journalistic forays into opinion.

To date, with some excellent but rare exceptions, the signs are not good. Without serious focus, fundamental mistakes will happen to the detriment of all of us in Europe.

Stockholm 2017: lorry attack.

WP_20150809_002 (2)Yet again, the security forces  are confronted with terrorist street led violence. With four dead and fifteen injured, Stockholm has been the target of a further European-based, murderous attack. The announcement of explosives that failed to ignite in the crashed lorry is a worrying twist in a now all too frequent occurrence.

Europe, one fears, will be targeted in the years ahead and it will test the resolve of government and security agencies. The need to lock all nation-states on the continent into a shared and united security network will be a challenge but Europe’s population will demand no less.

The recent confrontation and retaliation between Syria and its allies, especially Iran and Russia apparently on one side, and on the other the USA and its allies, determines a difficult context.

Fears for the Euro, matters as Brexit and Hungarian and Polish constitutional nationalistic game playing, need all to be put aside, or dealt with quickly, without the usual politicking.

But if the European Parliament debate on Brexit is any guide we are in for a rocky period of nasty rhetoric and obscure politics. Let us hope not.

Whatever the fake or sensational news surging through the media, politicians need to check the stairwell balustrade before descending or ascending the political stairs to avoid known, even unknown, risks waiting to happen.

St. Petersburg and northern Syria April 2017: civilian losses.

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The killing of civilians in ‘war’, and now what might be called ‘terror zones’, has been on the increase. This has been known for some time.

UNICEF previously claimed that the twentieth century witnessed a shift from casualties estimated at 5% of the population by the turn into the nineteenth century to 90% by the 1990s.

This continues today both in St. Petersburg with 14 dead in a terrorist attack and the latest atrocity in northern Syria claiming more than 50 (figures are rising and this is only an estimate) including 11 children in an alleged ‘gas attack’.

In both cases our humanity must go out to the innocent victims, their families, and friends wherever these attacks take place.

In the case of terrorists their targeting of civilians is deliberate, but those caught in officially termed ‘wars’ often described differently as ‘collateral damage’.

In the former the target is chosen for its disruptive impact on the societies and usually its political consequences through ‘terror’, whereas the latter is often seen as detrimental to war policy aims although in truth the impact is often complicated by power-play politics. The ensuing claim and counter-claim or idea of ‘alternative facts’ or a ‘post-truth’ world in such matters is meaningless when compared to the reality of the lives lost.

Security should be designed to counter the threat of such civilian losses but the contemporary trends appear on the wrong side of such policy intentions.

Does that mean we should stop trying even if ‘legal’ codification remains a difficulty,  a tangled legal jungle on the international beach of grief? Surely not.

In an era showing rising levels of conflicts (Uppsala Conflict Data Program, 2017) this question is ever more pressing.

What’s going on in Europe? Does Moravcsik have the answer?


What’s really going on in Europe? Germany, allegedly, has hardened its view on Brexit, the UK is constitutionally off-beam and confused about it’s real position geo-politically and would rather live in the glories of the nineteenth century. The Poles are messianic Catholics looking to lead Europe on some crusade, again all allegedly. The Italians are anti-EU if you look at four out of five political party manifestos. The Catalans will never have autonomy according to the Spanish government which also means that Scotland is destined to remain unhappily British. Gibraltar may be taken over by Spain. The French nationalist party may win a popular vote first round but fail miserably in the second. Hungary and Poland are both part of a mutually supportive Visegard group but who are actually profoundly different politically. The list of such matters is very, very long.

Does Andrew Moravcsik have an answer? The famous, or infamous, political scientist who argued that the EU is not representative of multi-states in the process of profound ‘integration’ but a process bound more to the idea of protecting the nation-state. The reason:  in a global environment that threatens, those who belong to the European Union have gathered together in the name of ‘unity’, even ‘integration’ but only primarily to support their own narrower national self-interest. This explains that oft-used ‘diversity in unity’ mantra. His term for all of this, simply put and so often quoted: “liberal intergovernmentalism”.

In 2016 he was arguing before the UK referendum:

“The lesson is simple. Europe is real because globalisation means every day more British people rely on the EU to secure and stabilise trade, investment, travel, litigation, national security and political values. So, the same politicians who lead a majority of Britons down the path to leave Europe would have to lead them back up again the next day to save their own political skins. Even politicians who have mastered the kabuki arts of mask and illusion must sooner or later face reality.” (FT, April 8, 2016

Recently interviewed (EuroActiv, 2017) this Princeton University Professor has not fundamentally changed his mind. He has changed his stance a little though, and perhaps, maybe, Britain is an exception that proves the rule he argues. Even so, fundamentally ‘Brexit’ he ‘absolutely’ agrees is mainly a ‘PR’ exercise and Britain will return to its senses over the next say 10 years (in political terms 10 years can be a lifetime it must be added):

“People may change the name. They may say Britain is some kind of associate member of the EU, member of European Free Trade Association (covering Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and participating in EU’s single market). They may say there is some special bilateral deal with Britain. But 90% of the policies will be exactly the same.” (EuroActiv, 29 and 30, March 2017)

There are two assumptions here. First, nationalism is not necessarily conflictual. But History proves that it can be deadly. Secondly,  the driving force of political matters is economic and works on an inevitable, globally arranged stage. Yet, protectionism is as much a  part of the global political economy as so-called free-trade. Look at the data.

As such, analysing the hot spots round the world, there are alternative judgements on show, less ‘rational’ views, at play one could say. The tensions within the European Union, mentioned above, are indicative of this. The number of items needing resolution, even nationally, appears to be growing. Hence the notion of a ‘multi-speed Europe’.

History in its own fashion, naturally,  will provide answers to both the theory and practice of European ‘liberal-intergovernmentalism’ within the wider canon of International Relations theory.

But caution is needed in such matters: ‘forecasting’ (understanding) from the past is easier than predicting the future from today. This may be a useful maxim to bear in mind in the next few years.

So, don’t forget your lifebelt, or at least knowing where you can find one.

Article 50: the real, hard-fought card game starts today at noon – March 29, 2017.


For many of us in the UK, today is not the day of national unity and brimming optimism that a majority (if that) of the population voted for in June 2016 last year. The hard negotiations, primarily built on economic competitive and comparative advantage, will now play out its hand in a hard-fought game of cards. There will be a deal of some fashion sometime and somehow, but all the players will, in the end, be diminished on the world stage.

No matter the economics, the political drive for an ‘ever closer’ European Union on the European continent has been shaken. The UK misplayed its hand, but so did the EU.

The only hope is that security and associated foreign policies can be designated as priority areas for all the players:  to maintain peace and defend that very same European continent which will now be re-shaped in political terms, and probably through the multi-speed option, but without the UK.

Paradoxically that must include the United Kingdom (sorry Brexiters but it is the inevitable part of present-day geo-politics) and also for those outside the inner and outer cores of the European Union institutions: the ‘euro zone’ defined in some cases, in the EEA  as another group and also others with associated trading status as ‘third countries’.

The geography of Europe will play its part no matter the vagaries of political decisions. But practical policy outcomes remain precarious.

For those who voted ‘yes’ and for those who noted ‘no’ in the UK referendum the next period (2 years and more likely 10 years) will be played out in roaring rhetoric and puffing and blowing, mostly unseemly, on both sides, from the media and politicians alike. Wisdom could prevail but the experience of the past is not hopeful on either side.

On a turbulent world stage, the major drivers of change will continue no matter what: cities and urbanisation will burgeon and evolve, increased military posturing and inward investment will be worrisome, global supply chains, including agriculture, made even more complicated, climate change threatening humanity will menace, the impact of new technology impose, the sectorial, regional inequalities of societies will continue, migration and so much more will hammer on the policy makers’ doors.

As for the UK and its call from some of its politicians (mostly a small band in power from both Left and Right with a hollowed-out Centre) for unity of purpose and solidarity, all pulling together for national (not European) purpose, this is a pipedream if meant and a cynical use of language if not. As with many other countries the old assumptions of territorial certainty have shifted. The data indicates this even in the UK.

As for the weathervane: there is a cold, complicated wind blowing across the beach this Spring morning.

London: Westminster attack 2017: another tragic event.

Office Lens_20160512_170955 (3)

London has joined, once again, the list of cities in Europe where innocent victims are left tragically murdered and maimed. From Westminster in London, to Brussels, to Paris and Marseille, and Berlin, and so many other areas, the battle against violence, terrorism,  continues.

Those hurt or killed include British, French, Romanian, Spainish, American,  Irish and South Korean: a witness to how very cosmopolitan London has become over the last few decades, appreciated and supported by many of us who live here. Our immediate thoughts go to the victims, their friends and families and work colleagues.

In such circumstances those who prey upon misfortune often turn to media headlines and in this case even tweets from the President of the USA’s family and they do not help, nor do the leaders of extreme parties eager to promote division.

They do not represent the feelings of Londoners nor Europeans but in a world where blind inward-looking nationalism and protectionism can be over inflated they must concern all of us as edges of argument that need redressing.

In the end, foreign policy must be handled with care and skill not brutish acts nor misplaced words nor ineffectual policy decisions: and that applies to security and policing as much as the diplomats.

Those who seek to violently divide, in the name of religion, even narrow nationalism, from States to political parties and to individuals, all are an anathema to the contemporary needs of our global society.