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14 August 2017

Charlottesville, Donald Trump, And The Dark Side Of American Populism

Citizen militia march in Charlotttesville, August 12
Citizen militia march in Charlotttesville, August 12. EPA/Virginia State Police
By Todd Landman, University of Nottingham

Charlottesville, Virginia is home to the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson; he was a slave owner, but today stands as a symbol of the US’s egalitarian ethos and political myth. But on August 12, some seven months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Charlottesville saw a far uglier side of the US on display: a Unite the Right rally bringing together people and organisations who resented the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Civil War general, Robert E Lee.

On the eve of the rally, the university’s Charlottesville campus became the site of a march of torch-bearing white supremacists, evoking the Klan rallies seen throughout the 20th century. Tense clashes between marchers and counter-protesters ensued, and the next day, the rally itself turned violent.

Radical right marchers turned up along with citizen militia groups (their guns on full display thanks to open carry legislation) and clashed with anti-fascist and other groups who stood up to them. Then 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr ploughed his car into a group of protesters, and has now been charged with the second degree murder of Heather Heyer, who died after he ran into her.
The context for these events is as old as the US itself. The country was borne of violence: a revolution that overthrew British rule, violent suppression of the Native American population, a violent Civil War that took over 600,000 lives, and a philosophy of “manifest destiny” that expanded the American nation across a continent.

Much of this violence was social and political. The Civil War has been seen as the true American revolution; it pitted a social and political order based on rugged individualistic capitalism against one of plantation economics and strong social hierarchy, including the system of slavery. The southern model was defeated, the slaves emancipated, and Confederate leaders and sympathisers left to mourn their project as a “lost cause”. But the culture of white supremacy was far from defeated, and radical right-wing social movements and organisations have troubled the US ever since.

The most notorious group, the Ku Klux Klan, was borne of Southern Democrats’ resentment of emancipation; over the years, it has been invigorated by other radical right groups founded on a powerful ideology of “Christian Identity”, a commitment to the racial superiority of white people and a mission to secure white power and dominance. (The Southern Poverty Law Centre has spent decades documenting and mapping their prevalence, discourses and actions across the US.)

To this day, there are strong social elements in the south and elsewhere that resent the the outcome of the Civil War and the consequences of reconstruction. To them, those consequences include the enfranchisement of women, the Civil Rights movement, Supreme Court rulings such as Brown v Board of Education (which desegregated schools in 1954) and Roe v Wade (which legalised abortion in 1973), and the overall advance of a progressive social agenda – one that to them culminated in the election and presidency of Barack Obama.

This politics of resentment gathered steam during the Trump campaign, and as the events in Charlottesville demonstrate, it’s now flourishing under his presidency.

Fanning the flames
During the 2016 campaign, Trump’s rhetoric was caustic and divisive. He described differences between groups as if they were essential and irreduceable; he named Mexicans and Muslims as having special attributes, lesser qualities, and who were in need of special measures, such as a “complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the US and a 2,000-mile border wall to keep out Mexican “rapists and murderers”.

His rhetoric also legitimised interpersonal violence more generally. He boasted that he could shoot someone and not lose votes, and encouraged participants at his rallies to use physical force against dissenters.
Now he’s president, Trump is trying to follow through on this rhetoric with executive orders and new legislation. This essentially gives licence to the US’s radical right elements to pursue their ends more zealously – and tellingly, Trump’s initial response to the events in Charlottesville was muted and non-specific.

Trump failed to name the right-wing violence as white supremacy, or to specifically condemn it; instead, he lamented the violence on all sides. The job of denouncing white supremacist racism was left to his daughter Ivanka and his vice-president, Mike Pence, who used much stronger language. After something of an outcry at his vague words, he finally took to Twitter to rail against “all that hate stands for”.

Many asked why Trump did not unequivocally condemn the events. But to explicitly condemn these groups would alienate a significant portion of his electoral base – something specifically pointed out to him by former Klan leader David Duke.

The protesters in Virginia, who came from across the US, closely resemble many who attended Trump rallies during the campaign – and much as he did post-Charlottesville, when asked by a journalist to specifically condemn the violence at those events, Trump declined.
The Conversation

While many of grievances Trump issued during the campaign are legitimate – the decline of the manufacturing, steel, and coal industries, decaying infrastructure, and so on – the rhetorical framing of the campaign galvanised a right-wing populism that had been in abeyance for much of the 1990s and early 2000s. In mid-2017, this dark side of populism is clearly very much awake.

About Today's Contributor:
Todd Landman, Professor of Political Science, Pro Vice Chancellor of the Social Sciences, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation

10 August 2017

Roald Dahl's Imaginormous Challenge Announces Five NEW Lucky Golden Ticket Winners!

6 year old Imaginormous Winner, Giselle Decker, enjoying her unicorns at Dylan's Candy Bar
This summer, for the first time since Charlie Bucket won the prize of a lifetime, Penguin Young Readers, along with some of Mr. Wonka's most trusted advisors, has chosen five children from across the United States to become the 5 NEW lucky golden ticket winners!
Roald Dahl's Imaginormous Challenge, which recently concluded its first year, received over 20,000 imaginative story ideas from American kids aged 5-12 across the U.S.—a  record breaking entry level! 
This past weekend, three of the children experienced once in a lifetime opportunities to work with incredible partners to transform their 100 word story ideas into something that would make Willy Wonka proud. 
From the youngest winner, Giselle Decker, at just 6 years of age, who imagined a unicorn kitty named Bubblegum and had her story idea transformed into a 3D printed, edible candy, to Anusha Senapati, an 11-year-old whose idea about a paralyzed girl who longs to dance was transformed by the cast and crew of "Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on Broadway into a choreographed dance number, each winner had the opportunity to work with industry leaders to help them realize their full creative potential.
Eleven-year-old Imaginormous winner Lucy Franks said of getting the chance to work with New York Times bestselling author Adam Gidwitz: "It was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to work with Adam Gidwitz, an author whose books I've read and enjoyed. He helped me develop my story and I left the session with some wonderful ideas. I can't wait to complete and share my story."
The final two winners' experiences are currently in the works: eight-year-old Sage Marie Spaeth will fly out to Hollywood to visit Warner Bros. Animation for her winning experience at the end of August, and eleven-year-old Cole Ritchie's winning idea is currently being transformed into a playable Minecraft experience, which will be available in a few weeks.
The full line up of Golden Ticket winners and their Imaginormous experiences are:
1.    Theatrical Creation Winner: Anusha Senapati, Age 11, Hometown: Acton, MA    
 "Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on Broadway turned Anusha's winning story idea into a marvelous, theatrical creation.
2.    Hollywood Pitch Winner: Sage Marie Spaeth, Age 8, Hometown: Teaneck, NJ
Sage and her family will fly out to Hollywood, courtesy of Mr. Wonka, and pitch her story idea to a major Hollywood Executive at Warner Bros. Animation!
3.    Immersive Minecraft World Winner: Cole Ritchie, Age 11, Hometown: Heber City, Utah
A team of Minecraft builders are transforming and reimagining Cole's winning story idea into a playable Minecraft experience for Cole and the world to enjoy.
4.      Become an Author Winner: Lucy Franks, Age 11, Hometown: Sparta, NJ
New York Times bestselling, award winning author Adam Gidwitz (Tale Dark and GrimmThe Inquisitors TaleThe Empire Strikes Back: So You Want to be a Jedi?), is working with Lucy to transform her idea into her very own short story book!
5.     Candy Creation Winner: Giselle Decker, Age 6, Hometown: Mesa, Arizona
Following in Willy Wonka's footsteps and with the help of Dylan's Candy Bar, Giselle's idea was turned into a magical, edible creation – a 3D-printed piece of candy!
The Golden Ticket winners also won the chance to see the new Broadway musical "Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in New York City the first weekend in August and are now traveling on an incredible family trip for four to the UK provided by Norwegian Air, which has two aircraft with Roald Dahl as its tailfin hero.The first was introduced last year, and the second was just put into service this summer.
Additionally, key stationery sponsor Post-it® Brand is proud to reward the teachers of the five winning children with special Post-it® Brand  educational materials, and the winning teachers will also be gifted with a Roald Dahl library of books valued at $500.00 from Penguin Young Readers.
If you didn't win in 2017, do not despair! It has been confirmed that the Challenge will be coming back bigger and better then ever in 2018. Roald Dahl's Imaginormous Challenge is all about inspiring imaginative story ideas in children 5 to 12 years of age. Recurring annually, the challenge aims to capture a million story ideas from children across the United States by 2020.
Go to TODAY to find out more about entering next year.  Remember, all it takes is 100 words to enter – and the prizes are set to be just as spectacular in 2018.

SOURCE: Roald Dahl Literary Estate

9 August 2017

China Is The Key To Avoiding Nuclear 'Fire And Fury' In North Korea


File 20170809 26073 11t3vve
The news of an exchange of threats between the U.S. and North Korea is reported in Tokyo on Aug. 9, 2017. AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
By Greg Wright, University of California, Merced

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un are playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

North Korea got the world’s attention – and Trump’s – when it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time on July 4. In response, the United Nations approved new economic sanctions against North Korea which, predictably, inspired a bellicose response from the rogue regime.

Trump threatened that further provocations will be met with “fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

In response, North Korea issued a threat of its own – missile strikes on the U.S. territory of Guam.

With tensions escalating, it is important to be realistic about how we can get out of this mess.

In short, any nonmilitary solution will rely on China choosing to apply its massive economic leverage over the North Korean regime. This is a point that Trump clearly recognizes. In July, he tweeted that Chinese trade with North Korea “rose 40 percent in the first quarter,” highlighting China’s reluctance to punish North Korea for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

While the poor quality of the data hinders a detailed analysis, Trump’s overall sentiment is correct. China has increased its trade with North Korea in recent years and done little to forestall North Korea’s nuclear ambitions besides backing the most recent round of U.N. sanctions. China’s foremost objective seems to be promoting greater stability from its volatile neighbor.

Yet a quick look at the data, however murky, shows just how much leverage China has, if it wishes to use it.

North Korea’s primary patron
In general, exports from one country to another can be mostly explained by the distance between them and the sizes of their markets, a pattern that holds for China and North Korea.

Geographically, they share a long border, which makes China a natural, though not inevitable, partner for trade. As a case in point, North Korea also shares a long border with South Korea, but these countries have almost no trade between them. In addition, North Korea shares a small border with Russia, with whom it has little, though ever-increasing, trade, as I discuss below.

China’s large market, proximity and – most importantly – willingness to trade with North Korea has led to a situation in which North Korea has become highly dependent on trade with what has become its primary patron. About half of North Korean exports and imports go directly to and from China and most of the rest of its trade is handled indirectly by Chinese middlemen.

North Korea’s dependence on its neighbor has grown hand-in-hand with China’s increasing economic dominance of East Asia, which gained momentum 15 years ago when China joined the World Trade Organization. Since then, both Chinese gross domestic product as well as its annual trade with North Korea have increased nearly tenfold, to around US$11 trillion and $6 billion, respectively.

North Korea imports nearly everything from China, from rubber tires to refined petroleum to pears, with no single category dominating. Meanwhile, coal constitutes about 40 percent of North Korean exports to China, followed by “non-knit men’s coats.”

Time to use that leverage?
However, recent events – such as the use of front companies by Chinese firms to evade sanctions imposed on North Korea and China’s reluctance to cut off energy supplies to the country – have led to some uncertainty about the extent to which China is willing to use this economic leverage to rein in North Korea’s military ambitions.

On one hand, China claims that coal imports from North Korea have recently been stopped as part of an effort to punish the regime for recent missile tests and the suspected assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. If true, this would be an important signal of China’s willingness to support U.S. concerns about the missile program as it would represent a loss of about a third ($930 million) of North Korea’s import revenue.

However, there is evidence that coal shipments in fact never ceased. And, in any case, China may have dramatically increased its imports of iron ore from North Korea to offset the lost coal revenues.

This is consistent with the idea that China carefully considers the resources and revenue that are available to the North Korean regime at any moment, and uses trade as a lever to control them. In this way, China walks a fine line between providing too many resources, and thus allowing the regime to prosper, and not enough resources, such that North Korea is in danger of collapsing. Ultimately, trade may be used as a lever to do some light scolding, but China’s overwhelming concern is preventing North Korea’s collapse.

Further evidence that China has tight control over the North Korean economy comes from a recent report from C4ADS. The research group found close, and often common, ownership ties between most of the major Chinese companies who do business with North Korea. This suggests that trade with North Korea is highly centralized and thus easily controlled.
Trucks cross Friendship Bridge from China’s Dandong, Liaoning province, to North Korea’s Sinuiju. Reuters/Thomas Peter
Russia: North Korea’s other ‘friend’
China is not the only country that North Korea trades with, though the others currently pale in comparison. Other top export destinations include India ($97.8 million), Pakistan ($43.1 million) and Burkina Faso ($32.8 million). In terms of imports, India ($108 million), Russia ($78.3 million) and Thailand ($73.8 million) currently sell the most to North Korea.

Russia in particular may soon complicate U.S. efforts to isolate the regime. While still small, Russian trade with North Korea increased 73 percent over the first two months of 2017 compared with the same period of the previous year.

But whereas China is legitimately worried that an economic crisis in North Korea could lead to a flood of refugees or all-out war, Russia likely sees engagement with North Korea in much simpler terms, namely as an additional way to gain geopolitical advantage relative to the U.S.

A way out?
Nearly all experts agree that there is no easy way to “solve” the North Korea problem. However, one plausible approach is to encourage South Korea and Japan to begin to develop nuclear weapons programs of their own, and to only discontinue these programs if China takes meaningful steps to use its trade with North Korea to reign in the regime.

Threatening to introduce new nuclear powers to the world is clearly risky, however stable and peaceful South Korea and Japan currently are. But China is highly averse to having these economic and political rivals acquire nuclear capabilities, as it would threaten China’s ongoing pursuit of regional control. In short, this is a sensitive pressure point that could be used to sway the Chinese leadership.

One way or another, China must become convinced that the costs of propping up the North Korean regime through trade are higher than the costs of an increased probability that the regime will collapse.

The Conversation[This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 6, 2017.]

About Today's Contributor:
Greg Wright, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of California, Merced

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Bonus Picture:
Image via Trumpton FB Page

19 July 2017

"Families Like Yours" Documentary Celebrates LGBT Families At World Premiere

Families Like Yours -Movie Poster
The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the business voice of the LGBT community, is proud to announce the world premiere of Families Like Yours, a powerful documentary exploring the love, compassion, sacrifice, and success of LGBT families in America. Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dk Realizadores, NGLCC, and Wells Fargo underwrote the film's production. Deutsche Bank and Hilton presented the premiere screening in New York City on July 17, 2017.
Through candid interviews and humorous real life stories, Families Like Yours demystifies LGBT families and their lives, showcasing that they are just as loving, busy, and complicated as any other family.  

Families Like Yours follows five families as they attempt to balance work and school, rush kids to sports practice, and deal with diaper duty. From all across the nation and in all different stages of family life, from conception to grandchildren, these families represent a cross-section of the modern American family-- the only difference is that they are LGBT families.
"It has never been more important to showcase the richness of diversity in America. LGBT families are a fixture of every community in this country, and Families Like Yours demonstrates why love, dignity, and respect for all is a virtue that should unite each of us," said NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson, who is an Executive Producer on the film along with NGLCC Co-Founder and CEO Chance Mitchell. "This film is dedicated to the brave and inspiring LGBT families across the nation who overcome discrimination and fear as they work hard, give back to their communities, and strive to achieve the American Dream just like everybody else."
Award-winning filmmakers Rodolfo Moro and Marcos Duszczak are the creative team behind a parallel film in ArgentinaFamilias por Igual. The film was widely praised, receiving several prestigious awards that added momentum to Argentina's LGBT equality movement.
Families Like Yours will next be screened at the 2017 NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, ahead of submissions to film festivals and LGBT conferences around the world.
More information and the official trailer can be found at 

SOURCE: National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

18 July 2017

'Chinks In The World-Machine' – On The Casting Of The 13th Doctor Who

File 20170717 6049 m2run3
The Whovian Life via Twitter
By Una McCormack, Anglia Ruskin University

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed of going into space. She would sit on the floor in the library, cross-legged on the carpet before a big shelf of books and read about a machine that could travel in time and space. She would put on the television, and see the Doctor and the TARDIS, and wish that she could be there too. She wanted to be on the Enterprise, and the Liberator and the Millennium Falcon – and she imagined great adventures, in which she saved the world, the galaxy, and (why not) the universe.

Unfortunately, a Catholic girls’ school in the 1980s was not a great place to harbour such ambitions – and there weren’t many kindred spirits dreaming these particular dreams. They became private stories, told to myself at odd moments, just before falling asleep – but not to be shared. After all, what kind of girl likes Doctor Who? What kind of girl wants to jaunt around time and space?

Doctor Who - The 13th Doctor
At long last! BBC/Colin Hutton

To say that I am delighted at the news that Jodie Whittaker has been chosen to play the 13th Doctor is a huge understatement. I enjoyed the whole media build up immensely. I was greatly entertained watching good friends rapidly bring themselves up to speed on the rules of tennis in order to predict how long a Wimbledon final might be – so that they could make sure they were on hand when the announcement was made. I watched the trailer with refreshed wonder and a whoop of glee at the reveal.

I remembered how happy friends had been when Christopher Eccleston was cast as the ninth Doctor back in 2004, how glad they were that now there was a Doctor who seemed like them. I hoped that they would be glad now that there was a Doctor who was like me.

Remaking the world
For me, science fiction – speculative fiction – is a genre that asks us to think about possibility. All good fiction, of course, asks us to expand our horizons by sympathetically imagining the experience of others. But the apparatus of speculative fiction provides us with particular, useful tools to re-imagine what that “other” might be – and to imagine the kinds of worlds that would be needed in order to make radically different kinds of being possible.

Alien life, yes; but also the kinds of human life and organisation that might be brought about by technological or scientific advance – or the radical re-imagining of how power, authority and resources might be e distributed among us. Its best writers, such as Ursula Le Guin, seem to have the power to remake the world.

Science fiction grows up
Science fiction has not, historically, been generous to women. Mothered by Mary Shelley (in Frankenstein and The Last Man), the genre, throughout the first half of the 20th century, becomes predominantly a form of heroic literature, steeped in fantasies of mastery and conquest.

Women were rarely present in this literature, except as trophies or temptations. We survived, in the arresting phrase coined by the great science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Bradley Sheldon and Raccoona Sheldon): “by ones and two, in the chinks of the world-machine”. A surge of feminist Utopian writing in the 1980s marks the beginning of a shake-up of the genre, which can now delight and surprise in many ways.

Casting a woman as the Doctor seems like something that should have happened years ago. Television is expensive, success is not assured, and risks with a flagship property can be difficult to justify. The incoming production team should be commended for this decision, choosing in Whittaker an actor of great talent whose presence will surely revitalise this ever-changing, fascinating, British institution.

Having a woman as the Doctor will not solve the conditions of vast and cruel inequality under which millions of women live today. It will not alter the grotesquery of the most qualified woman in history being passed over for the job of US president in favour of an overgrown child who wanted a toy and now doesn’t know what to do with it.

But representation and visibility do matter. What I have enjoyed most about this casting news is thinking about how this Doctor – a woman Doctor – was going to be the one that my little girl would grow up seeing. She will be her Doctor. The hero, the adventurer, the person to whom the text turns for moral and intellectual authority – that is a woman now.

The ConversationA little more of the glass ceiling has cracked. A spanner has been thrown into the workings of the world machine. We are reminded that something different is possible.

About Today's Contributor:
Una McCormack, Lecturer, Creative Writing Faculty, Department of English and Media, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

7 June 2017

Tearing Up Human Rights Law Won't Protect Us From Terrorism

Theresa May - seeking a carte blanche?
Seeking a carte blanche? PA/Stefan Rousseau
By Fiona de Londras, University of Birmingham

Prime minister Theresa May has announced her resolve to tear up human rights law if it prevents her, and her government, from tackling extremism and countering terrorism.

This rhetoric is hardly new. It echoes Tony Blair’s post 9/11 claim that the rules of the game are changing. It’s also a continuation of May’s approach as home secretary. Over her term in that role, she systematically sought to dismantle legal barriers to desired government action. Indeed, it chimes well with longstanding concerns on the part of many Conservatives that human rights law is nothing more than an obstacle to security.

May’s proposal raises questions about what exactly the perceived shortfall in counter-terrorism powers is, why and how human rights law is said to prevent its resolution, and what the evidence for these claims is.

Nobody denies that we need laws to counter terrorism and prevent radicalisation. That includes having powers to investigate potential involvement in terrorist activity and criminal offences that try to ensure the state can intervene to prevent terrorist attacks.

However, one can hardly imagine a legal power that would effectively prevent people from launching low-tech attacks such as those at Westminster and London Bridge. Nor can one seriously claim that the arsenal of counter-terrorism powers is under-stocked. UK law contains extensive provisions to prevent and criminalise all forms of engagement with terrorism, including powers relating to data surveillance, disruption of terrorist financing, criminalisation of travelling for terrorist purposes, and the criminalisation of all forms of support for terrorist activities.

Human rights law has not prevented the UK from developing and implementing these laws. To be sure, there may be some things that the government would wish to do which human rights law has prevented, forcing the state to find other, human rights compliant, ways to achieve the same ends. However, that is hardly a basis for criticising the law – it is, in fact, precisely what human rights law (and all law) is supposed to do.

The whole idea of law is that it restrains not only what we can do as citizens and residents of the state, but also what the state can require us to do, prevent us from doing, and punish us for. If human rights law has forced the state to rethink or restrain some of its activities, that simply means the law is working.

This is the key point here. Human rights law doesn’t prevent the state from countering terrorism, but it does prevent the state from doing so in whatever way it pleases and without limitation.

Who do we want to be?
There is ample space within human rights law for the state to take muscular steps in the name of security. It can prevent people from travelling, adjust normal criminal procedures to protect intelligence, and restrict what people can say publicly in order to prevent the glorification of terrorism. It can limit how people associate and organise to prevent the emergence of terrorist groups, and restrict people’s ability to engage in certain behaviours online.
Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane, two of the three London Bridge attackers
Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane, two of the three London Bridge attackers. PA
If a situation is truly grave – to the extent that it “threatens the life of the nation” as it says in article 15 of the ECHR – the state can even derogate from some rights. This means that, for a period of time and in order to restore “normalcy”, the state can limit the extent to which certain rights can be enjoyed. It can take actions that are ordinarily not permitted, provided those actions are limited to what is “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”.

If, then, the government is arguing that human rights law is preventing it from countering terrorism it needs to identify what it is that it considers needs to be done. It must state how human rights law is preventing them from doing that. And it must first consider how the desired ends might be achieved through means that are compliant with human rights.

It may be that there are some things the state wants to do that human rights law will not permit – mass internment, expulsion of all non-citizens without distinction, the total shut down of the internet, retention and surveillance of the content of all communications, for example, would all likely fall foul of human rights law. If the government proposed such actions and was, indeed, obstructed by human rights, would we really say human rights law is getting in the way of our security? Or would we acknowledge that it is protecting us from government overreach?

This, of course, leads to the most difficult and fundamental question of all: what kind of society do we want to be? If it’s one where we strive for total security, then of course human rights law might rightly be identified as an obstacle. Total security cannot be achieved in a society where the rule of law, human rights, and democracy are respected and upheld as fundamental principles.

Thanks to these principles we are free to flourish and live in a vibrant, diverse, rights-respecting society. But even without these principles, total security is a myth; no amount of law can protect us from all threats all of the time.

Does this mean the state shouldn’t take steps to prevent terrorism? Of course not. But it does mean that the state should not be able to take whatever steps it considers necessary to prevent terrorism, regardless of the impact on rights.

The ConversationIt is the legal protection of human rights, together with a vibrant civil society and healthy democratic system, that sets the boundaries of permitted action and best equips us to build a resilient society in which terrorism can effectively be countered. Tearing up human rights law would put all of that in jeopardy.

About Today's Countributor:
Fiona de Londras, Professor of Global Legal Studies, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation

26 May 2017

When Trump Met NATO: Blunt Talk And Meaningful Silences


World leaders met in Brussels for the NATO Summit 2017
World leaders met in Brussels for the NATO Summit 2017. AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Poo
By Simon Reich, Rutgers University Newark

Donald Trump’s electoral campaign was notable for his abrasive statements and blunt assessments about a variety of issues. Among his more unforgettable claims was his suggestion that NATO was “obsolete. The Conversation

This comment was largely founded, it seems, on a lack of understanding about what NATO does or how it functions. Since 1949, NATO has been a bedrock of American foreign policy, first in Europe against the Soviet Union and its allies, and then in Afghanistan. Trump’s desire to build bridges with the Russians, and his plain ignorance about NATO’s contribution in the war against the Taliban, largely explains his startling claim.

But what interests me as a keen observer of NATO politics is what Trump’s encounter with the other NATO leaders reveals about their relationship. And what will he claim about that meeting on his return?

A reeducation
As in many other policy areas, some quick tutoring led Trump to completely reverse his position. Key to that education was undoubtedly Defense Secretary James Mattis, who reportedly told the German defense minister soon after Trump’s inauguration that NATO remained the “central pillar” of transatlantic security and commented in congressional testimony that Russia remained America’s number one security threat.

So Mattis himself, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all traveled to Europe in the first 100 days of the Trump administration to reassure NATO allies about the organization’s continued importance. This sentiment was reinforced by General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the current supreme allied commander Europe.

By April, Trump had issued a predictably blunt edict in which he reversed course: “I said it was obsolete. It is no longer obsolete.”

Still, for many of us, a subsequent visit to see those we’d publicly criticized would be awkward. But just like his meeting with Pope Francis, Trump again demonstrated an amazing capacity to shrug off his earlier statements without any outward sign of embarrassment – while simultaneously asserting an authoritative tone.

The discussions in Brussels may have been more symbolic than substantial. But Trump’s ability to assume a claim of leadership – and success – was helped by two developments.

Claiming a victory on NATO financing
Donald Trump delivered a speech at NATO’s new headquarters in Brussels at the beginning of the summit
Donald Trump delivered a speech at NATO’s new headquarters in Brussels at the beginning of the summit.Reuters/Johnathan Ernst
First, Trump chastised other NATO members, reiterating his demand that they contribute more to NATO’s common defense.

Since the end of the Cold War, the size of the U.S. defense budget has varied, but expenditures always stayed above 2 percent of GDP. At the same time, however, most European budget expenditures haven’t. At NATO’s 2014 summit, NATO members agreed to target spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

Of the 27 other NATO members, only four currently meet the threshold. And of those, only Britain has a substantial military capability. Most pointedly, Germany has significantly underspent on defense. The fact that the 2 percent threshold doesn’t formally have to be met until 2024 is one of those minor facts that Trump conveniently ignores.

But this issue has been a longstanding squabble. In a rare example of bilateral consensus, Trump echoed the sentiment of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in demanding that they pay more. And, he added,
This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and [from] not paying in those past years.
Trump will surely characterize just bluntly voicing his concerns as a victory. And the vague promises of NATO members, particularly Germany, to increase their contributions to the common defense will reinforce that claim. The outcome, he will insist, is consistent with his campaign pledge – that he is getting a good deal for Americans.

Claiming a victory on terror
The second development in Brussels is an agreement that NATO would focus more on the fight against Islamic terrorism. This was formally reflected in the statement, calling terrorism “a challenge that the international community must tackle together.”

I imagine that Trump will undoubtedly again claim credit.

The Germans and French called this move “symbolic.” And, in some ways, they are right. The British and French are already deeply involved in the fight against terrorism, from Mali to the Middle East. And they have paid a heavy price for that involvement, as events in Paris, Nice, London and Manchester have made abundantly clear. But the assessment of the declaration as being purely symbolic may prove to be wrong in the long term – if a larger-scale Islamic State attack in the U.S. leads to Trump demanding that NATO provide a full-scale combat force to fight in Iraq or even Syria.

What wasn’t said
British Prime Minister Theresa May planned to discuss leaked intelligence about the Manchester attack with Donald Trump at the NATO Summit
British Prime Minister Theresa May planned to discuss leaked intelligence about the Manchester attack with Donald Trump at the NATO Summit. Reuters/Pool
Three major issues were, however, ignored in Brussels.

The first was Russia. Trump’s ambiguous views about Russia contrast with the universal concern of Europeans. But NATO’s coming together around a common condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine allowed them all to smooth over their differences.

Second, disturbingly, Trump publicly declined to endorse the key security guarantee that is the foundation of NATO: a commitment that the U.S. would defend any NATO member attacked. In practice that means an attack by Russia.

And finally, little was made of the leaking of critical intelligence about the terrorist attack in Manchester by American sources. Information sharing is at the heart of the fight against terrorism. But British Prime Minister Theresa May’s very vocal complaints were not addressed in Trump’s statement, although he did separately respond by authorizing an investigation into who and how it happened. Still, you can’t coordinate a fight against terrorism if your own services are leaking like a sieve.

The aftermath of Trump’s visit
In stark contrast to recent meetings with Obama, European leaders therefore were left unhappy by Trump’s lack of commitment to the core ideals that have traditionally bound NATO together: an explicit distrust of Russia’s intent and an explicit commitment to the values of democracy, human rights, free trade and free speech.

The fact that he ignored them all highlights the fact that the President Trump we see abroad is very similar to the President Trump we see at home.

About Today's Contributor: 
Simon Reich, Professor in The Division of Global Affairs and The Department of Political Science, Rutgers University Newark

This article was originally published on The Conversation

What The Manchester Attack Leaks Mean For The UK-US Intelligence-Sharing Relationship

Donald Trump and Theresa May
Donald Trump and Theresa May - PA
By Colin Murray, Newcastle University

Just a few hours after the British home secretary, Amber Rudd, issued a stern warning to the US government and intelligence officials about leaking sensitive information, they were at it again. The Conversation

US news outlets had already published the name of the suspect in the Manchester attack before the UK authorities were prepared to make it public. And now not only had more intelligence information been released about the suspects family and their movements, but the New York Times published photographs of bomb fragments and the tattered remains of a backpack.

But while this latest storm over the UK-US relationship and intelligence sharing in the wake of the Manchester attack is far from unique, these leaks are of a different order.

They indicate the febrile state of the administration in Washington. And when the White House gives the appearance of being cavalier with shared intelligence, it is unsurprising when nameless officials ape the commander-in-chief for their own advantage.

Perhaps inevitably, they resulted in the suspension of information sharing – even if this suspension was just for a matter of hours and limited to this single investigation. And in these times of shifting sands, the prime minister, Theresa May, went from defending the Trump administration’s approach to intelligence sharing to confronting the US president over leaks – all in the space of a single week.

But, for all the air of despondency the Manchester investigation leaks have generated, any damage in the UK-US security relationship is likely to be fleeting. Both countries have gained too much from the relationship. And more than anything, the leaks demonstrate just how quickly actionable intelligence flows between them.

A brief history of leaks

The challenge of effective international co-operation and intelligence sharing has long been a subject fraught with controversy. And it is testament to the durability of the relationship that it has weathered many such storms for the best part of a century.

This prize was not easy won, and it has proven very difficult to emulate reliable intelligence sharing – even where terrorism is at issue. Well into the 20th century many states would zealously guard intelligence. And when information was shared it would be on an ad hoc basis, for geo-political advantage.

For one group of countries, intelligence sharing during World War II changed this approach. The the so-called “Five Eyes” countries – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – recognised the value of shared intelligence to the allied victory. And, in light of the looming threat of the Cold War, these countries opted to maintain their sharing of signals and communications intelligence under the UKUSA Agreement, which in 1947 set up a top secret, post-war arrangement for sharing intelligence.

But even between these close “Five Eyes” partners, this arrangement did not stop horse-trading of other sources of information – and tensions inevitably arose. To mitigate these problems the partnership developed the “control principle”. This meant that the country which produced the original intelligence could determine whether it was shared with countries outside the partnership, or even if it was to be made public.

The bartering of secrets

That the “Five Eyes” system was maintained in the aftermath of the Cold War was not the product of mere habit. In an era of diffuse and emergent threats there was even – amid talk of a “new world order” – a concerted effort to extend intelligence sharing. And yet, all too often in the wake of terrorist attacks it emerged that different countries’ security agencies held vital information which, if pieced together, could have averted an atrocity.

So, in response to early instances of al-Qaeda related terrorism, Article 15 of the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings obliged signatory states to cooperate in the prevention of terrorist attacks. This was formed in 1997 and required countries to share “accurate and verified information” in such instances.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks the United Nations Security Council took things even further – enjoining all UN member states to “increase co-operation”. This measure aimed to transform international intelligence sharing in response to terrorism in the hope of preventing the next 9/11. And more importantly, put an end to the bartering of secrets seen within the “Five Eyes” system.

Close to home

But without a mechanism for enforcing co-operation, barter has continued to predominate within counter-terrorism partnerships forged after 9/11. For example, Saudi Arabia threatened to terminate intelligence sharing with the UK if a Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery surrounding the arms company BAE was not halted in 2006. And, in a similar vein, security cooperation with Pakistan is only maintained in exchange of foreign aid – making it clear that intelligence remains a valuable commodity.

Even established security partnerships, such as the “Five Eyes” arrangement, have struggled to adapt to this new paradigm – in part because the “control principledoes not sit easily with a legal duty to share intelligence which might prevent a terrorist attack, but also because an increased risk of leaks is part of the price for enhanced co-operation.

So, despite the US and UK’s seemingly “back-to-normal” working relationship, in a world of imperfect intelligence the Manchester investigation leaks risk exacerbating the tendency of intelligence agencies to want to keep as much information as possible close to home.

About Today's Contributor:

Colin Murray, Senior Lecturer in Law, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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