The international world order: why it matters right now.

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If humanity should have learned anything by now, it is how important the international world order is in the big scheme of things.

When it breaks down, or gets chopped up,  or morphs shape into something else, and the wheels of power and relationships alter, the consequences and implications are pitilessly enormous.

An over-the-shoulder cursory look at the nineteenth and twentieth centuries surely is enough proof: from revolution to global wars, from empires to rogue and nasty states, from homicides on a personal to a massive scale, to downright genocide, holocaust and ethnic cleansing.

The international world then is important, but also embraced by that very loose word ‘order’ which means so much and so little: it implies something workable, static, when in fact it is unstable, dynamic, even fragile in political terms.

Look how the Cold War came and went and has now returned; the post-Cold war hopes appear bludgeoned, where the second world war killed and displaced millions it has now become replaced by displacing migratory patterns not seen for centuries.

The lauded world of Trump and Xi, USA and China, claim a new era but which pulls in different directions with unknown consequences: aka the dilemma of North Korea.

As for the European Union, it remains fragmented with little more than market economics at its heart, when its security should be its priority in a world order showing strains unseen for many decades.

Notice, in the European Union how one of the largest economies has decided to leave its principal institutions: the UK can hardly talk about anything else or rather more about who will be Prime Minister in a post EU order of things rather than any strategic thinking.

Yes, the UK is going to become, it is promulgated, a ‘global free-market Britain’, or a ‘Socialist Britain’, whatever any of that means: a nebulous series of proposals with nothing linked to the existing ‘order’ of the EU or the wider international context. With no wider context we are left with slogans.

As for the rest of the other States of the European Union, the talk avoids Brexit’s consequences except perhaps as a passing opportunity to enrich some state economies, or maybe raising worries on how to ensure the EU institutions can balance their books in the midterm. A game of auditors it seems whilst bigger blocs are picking up the investment in the new technology of contemporary warfare and reshaping relations (e.g. Russia and China).

Of course, what might be happening (Brexit and the EU together) is the reshaping of the EU order of things: it is talked about at the margins but its consequences are not laid bare. The soft words of integration from the EU Commission and the External Action Service are in sharp contrast to the demands of the individual states.

In other, simpler words, as the world order appears to be shifting ground and almost unbelievably the talk of nuclear weapons becomes almost common place, the EU is having to shape-shift and the implications of this for the European, let alone the global context, as History has taught us, are massive.

We need to look much more closely at the global context of such ‘local’ issues: we need to draw the dots together a little more accurately if we are to perceive what might happen next.




Spanish attacks and European security.

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The horrific attacks in Spain, Barcelona and Cambrils, at the height of the summer tourist season, are a sharp reminder of the geo-political insecurities of the present era. Our hearts and condolences must go out to the victims and their families, who it is reported, now embrace more than 24 nationalities.

The Spanish security forces have acted, it appears, with speed and skill in very difficult circumstances, and with the other European security organisations, Europeans depend on their abilities and their cross-border infrastructures.

At a time when politically Europe remains fragmented especially with migration and Brexit in mind, the pressures on police and other security institutions continues to be an issue which goes to the heart of the European question.

The UK may have witnessed a new aircraft carrier for the Royal Navy and claimed as an effective global deterrence by entering Portsmouth harbour this week, but it is to be noted it comes into service without its full aircraft capabilities for at least another two years. Moreover, it has been designed, it could be argued, with US led NATO in mind rather than an integrated European stance and that geo-political position is important in the wider security arena. In the present situation with the Trump presidency this is fraught with political difficulties.

At a time when shared military and security forces are not only important but logistically essential across the European area, this is muddled thinking. None of the EU military or security needs will be met in Europe without effective cooperation at every level. But that does not mean that the EU has got its act together.

The EU European External Action service is to be praised, with other EU institutions, for the development of the recent common foreign and security policy linked to a common security and defense policy, endorsed by all 28 members (UK included) but its purpose and effectiveness also remains questionable in the wider scheme of global threats.

When the EEA argues that the EU is a ‘success’ in its overall peace mission, the actual military and security threats in the Mediterranean and wider associated areas (the Balkans and the Baltics come to mind) are pressing and an obvious sign of its limitations. This includes the migrants streaming out of Lybia and Morocco. The area is also surrounded by serious military engagement including Russia, Turkey and others, let alone the continuing terrorist attacks we witness again and again.

No ‘peace’ mission can withstand the weight of aggressive force and the question ahead is geo-political on a grand scale. Deterrence at this level is more than self-praise and the UK and the rest of the EU must come to terms with these issues with greater clarity.

Leaders and the leaderless.


Much is made of the role of leaders in society. Their importance, their charisma, their innate abilities are all liable to inhabit the media and probably more importantly the history books for years long after the ‘leaders’ have left us.

Some almost appear as super-humans, super-wonderful, also super-evil, superb intellectuals, stupid, overt psychopaths, egoists, but always something special, always the push toward the superlative.

In the real world though, of course, the human condition is never so simple, although the tabloids, and much of social-media keep up the pretence of the ‘special one’ ad infinitum. Just follow the tweet-deck/twitter comments on any topic and there you will find the whole range of over simplification and glory comments as well as the biased vitriol.

But power, another word for the game of influence and personal as well as collective decision-making, is a complex business begging deeper reflection and that is where good journalism needs to be found.

Contemporary examples will suffice on both sides of the Atlantic: the present state of play in the Brexit negotiations and the sudden arrival of a new Director of Communication for the Trump administration. Written by those whose journalistic and political skills are insightful and measurably accurate – the best of the media maybe – see below:


If the writers are right, ‘Brexit’ is at a turning point: once where the ‘strong and stable’ leadership of Prime Minister May was touted in the press as obvious, and promoted in an ill-fated election campaign, we now find indecision, weakness and in effect incompetence.

In Scaramucci’s appointment we see shifting grounds and opportunism reliant on the ‘love’ of country and ‘love’ of President Trump, neither representing any clear notion of decision-making or policy development but merely attributes of affection. This does not bode well.

So ‘leaders’ who step forward and show a lack of political skill or over-rely on the empty mood music of the media – the press and the new media –  are almost bound to falter.

Where positive, policy-led leadership is absent, one is left with the ‘leaderless’: division and fragmentation. Unless we have underlying political values to tie us to collective, even multi-lateral compromises, our decision-making is weakened.

In terms of simple Anglo-Saxon leadership,could it be that the present situation is detrimental to ”western values’ and forward-thinking? For all its faults does the EU represent an alternative?

No wonder there is talk of a ‘new’ lead from the European Union for attributed ‘western’ partnership-based values.

But here again, is it not the case we invest too much time in the personality of the leaders – Merkel and Macron for example – rather than understanding the complicated powerhouse of multi-state decision-making which is the EU?

We need analysis of the practical policies they promote and how they tie together. Then we can see the pitfalls and the opportunities much more clearly.

Brexit or no Brexit, the EU has to change too. The present geo-politics demand it even if the ‘leaders’ come and go.

There is probably a maxim or two here: deep in the political forest, without real competence the path ahead becomes that little more difficult and hazardous.

True democracy in the twenty first century demands not only compliance (legitimation) but reasoned, measurable aims, and not media-led, non-comparative, nationalistic expediency – in a word ‘competence’.


Post G20, 2017 networks: are we really in a new era of nationalist, zero-sum protectionism?

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The strange rhetorical postures of politicians were clear to see at this year’s G20. It was duly reported by the media, with a mountain of opinion added to the proceedings, with a view that the global order was under strain.

But to what extent can we assume that we are now in a new era, as many of those who reported such matters indicated? The battle-lines appear to be drawn toward a ‘clash of civilizations’ rather than cooperative efforts to manage the global order. Hence the G20 showed us the fragmentation of the global stage rather than its cohesion it was argued.

Was for example President Trump’s question, albeit to a Polish audience before the G20, asking if the ‘will of the West to survive’ was apparent, begging the question of what is meant by the ‘West’? It seems it was left unanswered at the G20:

Equally, President Putin’s continued speeches echo ‘ the moral failure’ argument, that the West is in decline, has turned away from its christian and other religious roots,  thereby weakening its unity and purpose.

The clearest of Putin’s views can be found from the 2012/13 period but again it begs the question of what is meant by the ‘West’ in a period of expanded globalization and an obvious, measurable, multi-lateral, multi-polar, inter-dependent world: is that not actually the message of the G20? A question of hierarchies and networks?

Of course, the measure in these cases comes down to actions not words, deeds not promises, or as one Nobel laureate once put it “Don’t follow leaders watch the parking meters”:

This is why in International Relations theory, measuring what is called the ‘social network’ has suddenly turned up on the academic scene as a meaningful tool:


In simplistic terms, any network (including global institutions such as the G20, or the UN or the EU) is both organisational and uneven in the distribution of power. Working out the relative strength of the network and the key players within it becomes paramount and not just related to first principles and most certainly not about any sense of ‘equality’.

Maybe this is how we must view the post G20, 2017 gathering. Certainly it is time to think anew. There is an obvious shift in emphasis on the global stage.

For those who have the time, an excellent literature review ( Lieke ‘t Gilde, supervisor R.J.G. Jansen, Tilburg University, January 2014) on networking and IR theory is worth a view and serious reflection:


Article 50 request should be withdrawn.

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The official letter from Article 50 taking the UK out of the EU should be withdrawn immediately.

It is not in the interests of either the UK or the EU for a chaotic, badly led withdrawal in the present political circumstances.

The complexity of foreign relations and of our continental trading system, in a world as untethered as the present should never have been the basis of a referendum in the first place and the divisions it has created are extreme and potentially dangerous for the UK.

The recent UK election shows the swampy ferocity and complexity of the situation – let alone incompetence of the political class across all the political parties.

This is not good for the EU either, who do not need a ‘partner’, in whatever form, on its shores divided and unstable.

The offer to withdraw has been indicated from French, German and other sources. The UK government must now stand up nationally and agree this to reset the issue.

No matter how difficult this may seem it is an imperative. As Wolf says in the FT, if not, the result could be ‘ugly’.

Fateful weeks ahead for UK and EU?


Another terrorist tragedy in London inter-mixing with the latest UK election news which will be decided tomorrow. In Europe, Paris sees another lone attacker outside the Eglise Notre Dame shot by police. The French legislative elections continue shortly and the German election moves on apace. In the wings, the Italians may have an earlier election than planned with unforeseeable results. Trump isolates the USA through denial of climate change and the subsequent Paris accord decision.

Meanwhile, the EU institutions ‘mull’ over its defence strategy for the future. The Brexit negotiations start on June 19.

The world moves on but the next few weeks and months could be fateful in so many ways.

In the UK an election called with ‘Brexit’ at its heart, has ended with the debates quickly turning to deeper political problems of inequality and management of the economy, with neither the two major political parties clear on any substantive detail of Brexit.

The opinion polls have now narrowed, and the seeming unstoppable Conservative, Teresa May’s ‘landslide’ victory now turned into another nail biter with Statista showing a 4% lead to the Tories which could mean a ‘hung’ parliament. The polls overall are not consistent though.

As for fixing the UK divided political parties, with perhaps a realignment and constitutional change, there has been nothing! Except a sense of disquiet. The tide is at a low ebb, one could say.

The very recent EU question over its defence comes out of some excellent reflections which have landed up as the ‘EU Global Strategy’ (2016/7) and a new complementary report on the need for ‘resilience’ carefully analyzed by the EUISS agency (2017):

The Director of EUISS Antonio Missiroli correctly writes:

“…, a dynamic notion (and practice) of resilience for the EU needs to be context-specific, conflict-sensitive and, above all, flexible: that is, it needs to be based on a thorough understanding of situations and risks and to generate a far-sighted and adaptive mobilisation of resources and responses, starting with financial instruments and diplomatic démarches. As such, it should not amount to a new policy in its own right but rather help the EU and its member states design better policies and forms of action that can support and sustain their common values and interests.”
Excellent though so much of the report is, it refers to Brexit only once,  and in the same breath as Trump’s isolationist stance in the USA. This is going too far and is flawed.
Any understanding of the UK political context demands deeper analysis from the EU.
A European continent with major players fragmented on ultimate objectives with the UK isolated does not bode well for any of us.
The EU institutions need to stand up and be the diplomat of patience and insight with achievable goals that embrace the UK and other non-EU, other non Eurozone interests. Then we can move forward.
If the UK cannot help itself to constitutionally reform, and do not judge the state of the UK by its political parties but by its public’s reaction to terrorism,  the only way forward is to create an EU that attracts and highlights the ‘resilience’ that working together represents.
A later report from EUISS neatly shows how practical control and command is the key to what happens in defence and security terms. And that must include a mix of EU and non-EU strategic thinking if it is to be effective and again is missing from EU27 thinking..
Can the EU institutions actually do this with a Chancellor Merkel re-elected with a new looking President Macron working together bringing the UK back into the ‘family’?
Think Iraq; think the financial crisis; think Libya and the Arab Spring; think Syria and Russian expansion; think cross border terrorism and organized crime. Think practice not just rhetorical principles.
Yes is the answer,  and to quote, ‘yes we can’ even if in the past the EU often prefers to say ‘no we can’t’.
There is no ‘resilient’ alternative for either the UK or the EU in security terms. The relationship with a USA-led NATO has already changed even if many can’t quite believe it.
Fateful days indeed.

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.