Britain, Iraq, Islamic State, Terrorism, United Nations, United States

The ramifications of liberating Mosul



Iraqi Peshmerga fighters fire a multiple rocket launcher east of Mosul as part of a broad coalition to retake the city from Islamic State.

Intro: The long-awaited attack on the Iraqi city of Mosul has begun. Taking Mosul will force IS to change its tactics.

Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, is the last big prize that Islamic State hold. It is the city from which they announced the creation of their caliphate in 2014. The city means a lot to them and they might well decide that this is a last stand. That will mean a long and arduous battle, close-quarter urban and asymmetric warfare which will become bloody and slow. Civilian casualties are likely to be high as IS seek to be protected through the use of human shields.

The UN will have been making plans for this contingency and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has issued an appeal for an additional $61m (£50m) to provide tents, camps, and winter items such as blankets for displaced people inside Iraq and the two neighbouring countries. The fears that residents could be used as human shields – by, for example, being placed on rooftops in an attempt to deter airstrikes – and, that as many as a million people could be forced to flee their homes, has the makings of another humanitarian tragedy. Surely the governments involved in the broad coalition in the war against IS will ensure that the UN have the money and supplies that they need.

Worryingly, there may be another tactic that is more attractive to IS. There is likely to be a realisation within the organisation that the caliphate will not remain, which is likely to suggest that in pursuit of their long-term goals it would be better to flee in to the desert. That could involve as many as 10,000 fighters who could re-group and re-build. If they stand and fight in Mosul what may be left? The threats to Western societies are very real.

Regardless of tactics and time, however, there are two virtual certainties in this situation. The first is that Mosul will be re-taken by pro-government forces, it is only a matter of when and at what cost. The second is that IS will not be wiped out, but will turn in to an even more hardened terrorist organisation, not merely a territory-holding army, and be capable of conducting a campaign of insurgency. The big question here is just how effective it could be and what resources it could command.

When IS first took over its towns and cities there were local reports of at least some support for the organisation’s objectives: a deep distrust of the government and its supporters existed. But, by many accounts, that tacit support has now disappeared, and IS’s brutal regime has been uncovered for what it actually is. It is imperative that the disaffection with Islamic State be maintained, as all insurgent groups need the help and support of at least some of the indigenous population to be effective.

That is why it is vitally important that no sectarian violence occurs when towns are liberated from IS, and the undertakings given on this aspect must be delivered.

Equally as important is that there is a long-term plan to ensure the governance of these areas is as inclusive and equitable as possible.

It is in the interests of all the nations currently ranged against IS that these longer-term plans are instigated and that they continue. History clearly tells us that structures set up in the aftermath need to be adequately robust to ensure that any remnants of IS is not allowed to thrive.



Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, is the last stronghold of Islamic State. The threat now is that IS fighters may flee to the desert.


Britain, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United States, Yemen

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the West…



Map depicting Houthi controlled Yemen and the struggle for control

Intro: Saudi Arabia should limit its war in Yemen. Despite the difficulties of late the West should be in a position to help, not by rescinding an almost century-old alliance.

The recent air strike earlier this month that hit a funeral in Sana’a did far more than kill some 140 civilians and wounding 500. For once, it drew rare attention to Saudi Arabia’s 20-month war in Yemen and the strained relationship which now exists with America. That alliance is now under threat with the U.S. reconsidering its military support for the campaign.

Critics are adamant that it is time for the West to abandon its embarrassing alliance with the Saudis. They ask, how can the West denounce the bloodshed and carnage in Syria when its own ally is indiscriminately bombing civilians in Yemen? If the Saudis, with Western support, can intervene to defend the government of Yemen, why shouldn’t Vladimir Putin of Russia not defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria?

Morally, and perhaps also legally, the U.S. and Britain are directly implicated in Saudi actions: they sell warplanes and provide munitions and armaments to the Saudi regime; they assist with air-to-air refuelling and help with targeting. Critics also point to the fact that Saudi Arabia is a woeful ally against jihadism. They insist that the Saudis are inflaming global extremism through its export of intolerant Wahhabi doctrines.

Such arguments do have strength. On balance, though, the West should not forsake the Saudis. Rather, it should seek to restrain the damage of their ongoing air campaign, and ultimately aim to bring it to an end. Western support cannot be deemed to be unconditional.

Consider first the moral position and balance. The two conflicts are both ghastly, but not equally so. Around 10,000 have died in Yemen, too many, but far fewer than the 400,000 or so that have perished in Syria. The Saudi-led coalition has not used chemical gas – although it has undoubtedly been careless. It has bombed several hospitals, and its blockade of Yemen and the subsequent damage to its infrastructure has caused dire hardship. A famine now looms, with more than half the country deemed to be hungry or malnourished.

The political context is also different. The Assad regime wrest power in a coup, and has held onto it through tyrannical brutality. Its deliberate crushing of peaceful protests and dissent in 2011, and its indiscriminate and repeated slaughter since then, has removed any speck of legitimacy it may have had. By contrast, Yemen’s president, Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, though ineffectual and flawed, has at least presided over a broad coalition that was established through UN-backed negotiations (which followed the resignation of the former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh). The Shia Houthis and Mr Saleh, backed by Iran, overturned that deal by force. They frequently fire missiles indiscriminately at Saudi cities, although the damage is often limited.

While the West has little reason to join the war, it has much at stake if it goes wrong. Al-Qaeda’s local franchise has been strengthened, and the Houthis have begun firing missiles at ships in the Bab al-Mandab strait, one of the world’s vital sea lanes. America launched cruise-missile strikes against Houthi-controlled radar sites after attempts were made to attack one of its warships patrolling the region.

The West’s involvement with the Al Sauds is important to understand. Its long alliance, which dates back nearly a century, was also built on its extensive commercial interests that the West has had in the Gulf. Over the decades, the Saudis have put up with many American blunders in the Middle East, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003. They were shocked, too, by how the West abandoned the former Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, during the mass protests and upheaval of 2011. Last year’s deal between America and Iran to restrict Tehran’s nuclear programme, and Mr Obama’s skewered rhetoric and offhand tone about the Saudis, has deepened their own fear of abandonment. And, the Congressional approval for a bill to allow the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks of 2001 to sue Saudi Arabia, overriding Mr Obama’s presidential veto, is further evidence that the disenchantment is mutual.

Yet, despite this, there are still good reasons for the West to maintain ties to Saudi Arabia. The alternative to the Al Sauds is not liberalism but some form of radical Islamism. Saudi Arabia remains the world’s biggest oil exporter, and holds guardianship of Islam’s two holiest shrines. Better surely that these be in the hands of a friendly power than a hostile one. Whilst slow to respond to the emerging threats of fundamental Islam, it is now a vital partner in the fight against jihadism. It will be better placed than the West to challenge their nihilistic and radical ideologies. The chaos of the Middle East, a tinderbox of tension and hatreds, stems at least in part from Sunni Arabs’ sense of dispossession. The best hope of containing the volatility is to work and collaborate with Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia.

As uncomfortable as it is, the West should stay close to the Saudis. Riyadh should be encouraged to reform economically and politically, while acknowledging widespread concern in the Gulf about the spread of Iranian influence. As the U.S. has said, Western support cannot be ‘a blank cheque’; the more the West helps Saudi Arabia wage war in Yemen, the more it becomes exposed and liable for war crimes. If the Saudis want to fight with Western weapons, they must be obliged to respect the laws of war.

But above all, the West should use its influence and diplomatic powers to help the Saudis end the bloody stalemate. It should promote a reasonable power-sharing agreement that directly involves the Houthis. That would make Yemen a model by which the future of Syria could also follow suit.


Banking, Consumer Affairs, Society, Technology

Changes to security codes on bank cards…


A CREDIT CARD with a constantly changing security code is being launched in an attempt to prevent fraudulent transactions.

The three numbers on the back of the card will be replaced by a digital display randomly generating a new combination every hour.

Oberthur Technologies, a digital security company, is in talks with UK banks about introducing the technology and has said the cards will be used by French customers by the end of the year.

The security code on the back of most credit and debit cards is required to make payments online.

Fraud in the UK involving cards, remote banking and cheques totalled £755million in 2015, with more than 20,000 victims.

The mini-screen on the new cards is powered by a small battery designed to last three years.

A cyber-security expert within the industry, said: ‘It’s surprising it has taken so long for this to appear. The technology has existed for some time so now it will be a case of persuading card processors that it is worth doing.’

The insider added: ‘It may be costly for card operators as some extra infrastructure will be required to ensure our cards stay synchronised with the operator, but it happens already for many banks with the dongles they use for login [to online banking].’

One drawback of the card is that customers will no longer be able to memorise their security code and will need to check every time they want to make an online purchase.

The French banks Societe Generale and Groupe BPCE are preparing to issue the cards to customers after a successful pilot scheme last year. They are also being tested in Mexico and Poland.

In another development in digital security, MasterCard has announced that it has developed technology that could allow online shoppers to send a ‘selfie’ of themselves to prove their identity when they make a purchase.

It would do away with the need for passwords used as an additional level of security to the three-digit code. But passwords can be difficult to remember, stolen or intercepted.

Master Card customers currently use a system called SecureCode to verify their identity while shopping online. The process can result in shoppers abandoning their purchase or having the transaction declined if they enter the password incorrectly.

The ‘selfie’ password system involves customers downloading an app to their mobile phone and registering by taking a photo of themselves so their face is stored in the system.

To authorise a payment, they look into the camera and must blink to verify they are not just holding up a photo of someone else. Customers will be able to use a scan of their fingerprint instead of a selfie if they prefer.

Iraq, Islamic State, Middle East, Politics, Syria, United States

Resolving the crisis in the Arab world requires liberating Mosul…


Intro: By liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, offers high expectations of assuaging Sunni anger

Those bearing the brunt of war across the Fertile Crescent – from the Mediterranean to the Gulf –  are for the most part Sunni Arabs. Whilst they form the largest ethnic group and are heirs and inheritors of fabled empires, many of their great and ancient cities are now in the hands of others: the Jews in Jerusalem, the Christians and Shias in Beirut, the Alawites in Damascus, and, more recently, the Shias in Baghdad. A further study of the disturbing patterns that have emerged also reveals that Sunni’s constitute the bulk of the region’s refugees. Where Sunnis hold on to power, as in the Gulf States, they feel encircled by a hostile and overbearing Iran and abandoned by America that is perceived as being indifferent to the changing demographics of control throughout the Arab world.

The divisions go beyond sectarianism. Almost everywhere the Arab state is in turmoil and crisis aggravated by many years of misrule, often no less than by Sunni leaders. We need look no further than Iraq’s appalling former tyrant, Saddam Hussein, the quintessential Sunni Arab strongman, or of Egypt’s flawed and deposed leader, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The sense that Sunnis’ are being assailed from all sides helps to explain how the jihadists of Islamic State are offering to restore the ancient caliphate. IS has taken over vast Sunni-populated areas of Syria and Iraq, yet, no battlefield victory against Islamic State can ever be complete, or no diplomatic solution lasting, until the dispossession of the Sunnis’ has been dealt with.

The future of the region is currently being decided in two venerable cities: Aleppo, the last conurbation of the Syrian rebellion against Bashar al-Assad, and Mosul, IS’s most prized possession in Iraq. The conduct of the battles, and the political order that will follow, will ultimately determine the course of the region’s barbaric wars. The best hopes for peace lies in federalism and of decentralisation which would give Sunnis (and others) a proper voice.

Aleppo has become the symbol of the worst sort of external intervention. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is helping Assad’s troops in Syria, as well as their Iranian and Shia allies, and continues to pound the besieged Sunni rebels. It looks now more of an attempt that the entire city will be taken before Barack Obama leaves presidential office next year, convinced that America is now powerless to act in stopping this relentless onslaught. The deliberate and planned brutality, in which hospitals are repeatedly attacked, will only feed Sunni resentment and stoke the flames of extremism even more. So will Russia’s orchestrated choreography that Assad should remain in charge of any future power-sharing government.

By contrast, however, Mosel could yet emerge as a model for defeating the jihadists by creating a saner political framework that fully recognises the stake that Sunni Arabs’ have in Iraq. With American support, Iraqi, Kurdish and local Sunni tribes are closing-in on the city. The Jihadists have been severely rattled and are far less effective in Mosul than they once were. The loss of Mosul would deal a blow to IS. It was from there that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, declared his caliphate.

But much can still go wrong in Mosul. Nobody knows just how hard IS will fight. There are concerns that the Iraqi government has not done enough in preparing for a mass exodus of civilians, or, too, that it will be unable to prevent an armed free-for-all by Shia, Kurdish and rival Sunni militias. Yet, for all its violence and chaos, Iraq offers real hope. Its politics has evolved that is now more open than those of most Arab countries. It has an energetic and lively press and, despite having a parliament that is best described as rowdy and disorderly, cross-sectarian alliances are starting to form. Even Shia politicians are anxious in shaking off their image as proxy clients of Iran. Sunni Arabs in Iraq are moving away from the politics of rejection and are setting their sights on reconquering Baghdad.

Iraq could yet give the Arab world a welcome new model of devolved power, a triumph following the failures of Arab nationalism, Islamism and jihadism. This would make it much harder for murderous dictators to terrorise their people, and by giving diverse ethnic groups a perceived awareness that they rule themselves. Would-be separatists, most notably the Kurds, might be convinced to remain within existing frontiers.

More flexible forms of government might just ease some of the conflicts of the Arab world, even the atrocious bloodletting in Syria. Under such looser forms of government, the balance of power would invariably differ but would be required to follow a few basic principles. Because no region is ethnically pure, the first of these principles would require sub-entities respecting the rights of minority groups. Following on from that would be the need for all groups to have a share of power in central government. A further presumptive principle is that national resources, such as oil, must benefit the whole population. And lastly, perhaps the most difficult, would be to find the right balance of armed force between national armies and local police forces. This would allow minorities to feel protected and by discouraging local warlords and clan chiefs from rebelling or breaking away.

On paper at least, Iraq’s constitution does provide for much of this. It should become a reality. Devolution may not end all political quarrels, but if it stops the bloodshed that will be progress. It is imperative that Mosul be captured judiciously, with care for civilians and political consensus or agreement on how it will be run after the defeat of IS. The city should not only become a test of the maturity of Iraqi politics, but also a measure of the responsibility of outside powers. Saudi Arabia and Iran should support reconciliation and reconstruction. Western forces should be committed to the long-term if stability and political reform is to hold.

Mosul offers the only real opportunity to convince beleaguered Sunnis that there is a better alternative than the nihilism of jihad. If the politics that emerges feeds their sense of dispossession, expect the violence to go on. What happens in Mosul matters to many other places outside of Iraq; it might even give hope to the desperate situation in Aleppo.


Map highlighting the most important strategic locations in Iraq.


Africa, Government, Politics

The fragility of political reform in Africa…


Intro: African countries need to diversify away from their dependence on exporting commodities, which in turn would mean reforming and liberalising markets and bolstering independent institutions

SINCE the end of the cold war multiparty democracy has spread far and wide across the African continent, often with a moving and impressive intensity. Some have referred to it as Africa’s second liberation. Following freedom from European colonisers came freedom from African despots. 1994 is etched into history when many South Africans queued for hours to bury apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as president in their country’s first all-race vote.

The start of the liberation saw many of Africa’s Big Men swept away. Ethiopia’s despot Mengistu Haile Mariam fled in 1991; Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) decamped in 1997; and, a year later Sani Abacha of Nigeria died in suspicious circumstances. In parts of Africa autocrats are still in power and wars still rage. But most leaders now seek at least a veneer of respectability, elections have become more frequent and economies have opened up.

Yet, African democracy has stalled – or even possibly gone into reverse. Often, the continent has become an illiberal sort of pseudo-democracy in which the incumbent lavishly attacks the opposition, exploits the power of the state to stack the electoral contest in his favour and by removing any constraints on his power. That bodes ill for a continent where institutions are still fragile, corruption rife and economies weakened by the fall of commodity prices. One of the previous fastest-growing economies of the world has now become one of the slowest. For Africa to fulfil its promise, the young, dynamic continent must rediscover its zeal for democracy.

Zambia is the latest worrying example. It was one of the first African countries to undergo a democratic transition, when Kenneth Kaunda stepped down after losing an election in 1991. Just last month Edgar Lungu was re-elected president with a paper-thin majority in a campaign that was marred by the harassment of the opposition, the forced closure of the country’s leading independent newspaper, and accusations of vote-rigging and street protests.

Central parts of Africa appear most troubling. Incumbent leaders are changing or sidestepping constitutional term limits to extend their time in office, which often provokes unrest. Kenya, where political tension is rising, is facing concerns over threats of violence in next year’s general election. Freedom House, an American think-tank, reckons that in 1973 some 30% of sub-Saharan countries were ‘free’ or ‘partly free’. In its most recent report that share now stands at 50%. Whilst a big improvement it is down from the 71% which was reported in 2008. Countries that are ‘not free’ still outnumber those that are. A big chunk in the middle is made up of flawed and fragile states that are only ‘partly free’.

The people of Africa deserve much better. For democracy to work, the elected must not be greedy with those losing seats or failing to win accepting defeat. There must also be trusted institutions that invariably act as arbiters and stabilisers for democracy to flourish. In many places, some or all of these basic elements are missing.

Expanding and strengthening Africa’s middle class is the best way for democracy to thrive. Increasingly interconnected to the world, Africans know better than anyone the shortcomings of their leaders. Consider South Africa. Despite its model constitution, vibrant press and diverse economy, it has been tarnished under its president, Jacob Zuma. Whilst he has hollowed out institutions, some of which were tasked with fighting corruption, moves which were an attempt to strengthen his own position, South Africa has also demonstrated the power of its voters. In recent municipal elections, the powerful African National Congress lost control of many major cities. For the first time, a plausible alternative political party of power has emerged in the liberal, business-friendly Democratic Alliance.

Societies and economies which are free reinforce each other. African countries need to diversify away from their dependence on exporting commodities, which in turn would mean reforming and liberalising markets and bolstering independent institutions. The rest of the world can help by expanding access to rich-world markets for African goods, particularly in agriculture.

Other than promoting a middle class, diversification mitigates the ill-effects of a winner-takes-all politics. When a country’s wealth is concentrated in natural resources, controlling the state gives its leader access to the cash needed to maintain power. The problem is aggravated by the complex, multi-ethnic form of many African states, whose national borders may have been created by colonial whim. Voting patterns often follow tribal customs rather than class or ideology, which tends to lock in the advantage of one or other group. Political defeat at an election can mean being cut out of the spoils indefinitely. Dealing with variegated polities require structural changes in society such as decentralisation (as in Kenya), federalism (as in Nigeria) and requirements for parties or leaders to demonstrate a degree of cross-country or cross-ethnic support.

For those democracies which are fragile, the two-term rule for heads of government is invaluable, as it forces change. Nelson Mandela set the example by stepping down after just one term. The two-term rule should be enshrined as a norm by Africa’s regional bodies, just as the African Union forbids coups.

It’s also worth considering what else the outside world can do other than providing African countries with access to markets. China, for instance, has become Africa’s biggest trading partner, supplying aid and investment with few or no strings attached in terms of the rule of law and human rights. Even China, however, now that its own economy has markedly slowed, will not be in the business of propping up financially destitute African autocrats.

This means that Western influence, although diminished, remains considerable – for historical reasons, and because many African countries still look to the West for aid, investment and sympathy from international lending bodies. With the commodity boom at an end, a growing number of countries are facing a balance-of-payments crisis. Any fresh liquidity, particularly in the form of loans, should be conditional on strengthening independent institutions.

Yet, the West has flagged in its efforts to promote open and accountable democracy, especially in places such as those around the Horn of Africa (see appendage) and the Sahel, where the priority is to defeat jihadists. That is myopic. Decades of counter-terrorism teaches that the best bulwarks against extremism are states that are prosperous and just. That is most likely to come about when rulers serve at the will of their people.



Map depicting countries that make up the Horn of Africa.



Britain, Foreign Affairs, Islamic State, Libya, United Nations

MPs blame Cameron for the rise of Islamic State


Intro: British chaotic intervention in Libya left a vacuum that has let jihadis thrive

Members of Parliament on the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee have warned that the ‘ill-conceived’ military intervention in Libya by David Cameron has helped to fuel the growth of Islamic State and left the world a more dangerous place.

In a devastating verdict, MPs have savaged the former prime minister’s judgement in rushing to war in 2011, saying the intervention was based on ‘erroneous assumptions’.

The cross-party committee accuses Mr Cameron of ignoring military chiefs and a lack of reliable intelligence to pursue an “opportunistic policy of regime change” in Libya.

And it says he gave little thought to how Libya would fare following the removal of dictator Colonel Gaddafi setting the scene for the country’s descent into anarchy and chaos.

The committee says that Mr Cameron’s Libyan adventure ‘was not informed by accurate intelligence’, with ministers underestimating the threat that the country could become an Islamist stronghold.

It concludes: ‘By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunistic policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya.

‘The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Islamic State in North Africa. Through his decision making in the National Security Council, former prime minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.’

The report, dated September 14, 2016, says Mr Cameron’s failings in Libya means Britain now has a “particular responsibility” to assist the war-ravaged country and help deal with the flood of migrants heading from its shores to Europe.

But it says ministers should not deploy troops to the country until it becomes more stable, warning they would become “an accessible Western Target” for IS and other militants. The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, said: ‘The UK’s actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out today.’

An international coalition led by Britain and France launched airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces in March 2011 after the regime threatened to attack the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

Mr Cameron claimed the intervention was necessary to prevent a massacre of civilians, but the new parliamentary report says that, despite appalling human rights abuses over 40 years, Gaddafi had no record of large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.

It says that the Government ‘selectively took elements of Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value’ without assessing the real threat.

MPs find that ministers and officials should have realised that the rebels included a “significant Islamist element”. They add: “The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion would not have been the preserve of hindsight.”

The report also criticises Mr Cameron for ordering military action despite the reservations of the then Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards and MPs are scathing about the lack of post-war planning for the country.

The report cites unpublished research by the House of Commons Library showing Britain spent £320million bombing Libya, but just £25million on reconstruction.

Mr Cameron did not give evidence to the inquiry, saying he was too busy. A Foreign Office spokesman said the decision to intervene in Libya was an international one, called for by the Arab League and authorised by the UN.

18 September, 2016:

When David Cameron’s legacy as prime minister is written into the history books, his decision for Britain to join France in the 2011 military intervention against Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is not likely to count in his favour. Insisting he had learnt the lessons and the litany of failures of the Iraq war, Mr Cameron was keen to emphasise that, so far as Libya was concerned, Britain had the full backing of a UN Security Council resolution, and that military intervention was vital if Gaddafi was to be prevented from massacring thousands of anti-government protesters in Benghazi.

But as the damning report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Libya makes clear, Mr Cameron’s attempt to develop a new paradigm for military intervention in rogue states was as flawed as Tony Blair’s arguments for invading Iraq. The report concludes that the decision to intervene was not based on accurate intelligence, the threat to civilians in Benghazi was overstated and the government failed to grasp that among the rebel factions were a significant number of Islamist radical fighters.

As Mr Cameron has already announced his decision to stand down from the House of Commons, he has avoided of being in the position of defending his government’s record in Libya (and also of explaining the role Mr Blair played in encouraging him to act).

Theresa May is yet to make clear her views on how she intends Britain will respond to future global challenges. But with conflicts in places such as Syria continuing to dominate the headlines, it is vital that, if Britain does need to respond militarily, it does not end up repeating the same mistakes Mr Blair and Mr Cameron made.

Foreign Affairs, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, United Nations, United States

Restraining Pyongyang has become problematic


North Korea’s fifth nuclear test: The seismic activity amounted to a total of 5.3 on the Richter scale.

North Korea’s fifth nuclear test: The seismic activity amounted to a total of 5.3 on the Richter scale.

Intro: North Korea’s increasingly forceful stance is making the international community extremely nervous

Some said it was just a matter of time until North Korea carried out another nuclear test. Kim Jong Un, who inherited power from his father in 2011, has accelerated the pace of nuclear bomb testing and the firing of ballistic missiles. Pyongyang would not have been pleased earlier this year with the imposition of new sanctions and would have been agitated with stern talks last week at the ASEAN summit. On September 9th, a national holiday that celebrates the founding of North Korea’s communist regime by Mr Kim’s grandfather, the country announced it had carried out its fifth test.

Troubling. Not least because of the force of the test. The explosion appeared to be at least 10 kilotons, and perhaps as many as 30, making it by far the most powerful device North Korea has yet tested. It triggered an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.3, alerting South Korea of the event before its troublesome neighbour confirmed it.

North Korea’s increasingly forceful stance is making the international community extremely nervous. Intelligence suggests the country has a stockpile of some 20 devices to which one is being added every six weeks. The earlier underground detonation carried out in January almost certainly was not the hydrogen bomb that North Korea had claimed, but that was followed by a series of missile tests. The claim in Pyongyang that it can now send a missile to America may be bluster, but it could almost certainly strike targets in both South Korea and Japan.

Of more concern is the question of whether North Korea can miniaturise a nuclear warhead that could be attached to one of those missiles, and robust enough to endure a trajectory that would take it into space and back. The North boasts that this is now possible, although analysts and observers are sceptical of this claim. But there is no doubt that North Korea is making rapid progress in the development of its nuclear programme. It has clearly become a priority for Mr Kim, who seems to be devoting even more of his country’s relatively meagre resources to it than his father did.

Japan and those in other neighbouring states have become increasingly anxious. They are concerned that the young Mr Kim is far less predictable than his father. While the strength of his grip on the regime is unknown, three of North Korea’s five nuclear tests have been carried out during his five-year rule. This suggests he remains adamant in projecting strength domestically. That might be because he feels insecure, but might equally reflect self-confidence.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have responded with predictably harsh statements. Even China, North Korea’s closest ally, said it ‘resolutely’ condemned the test. Despite Barack Obama having made nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament a personal priority, having pushed for a nuclear deal with Iran and visiting Hiroshima (one of the two Japanese cities on which America dropped nuclear bombs during the second world war), there is worrying little that America and its allies can do to restrain Mr Kim.

In response to the test in January, the United Nations tightened sanctions on North Korea in March. New measures include a somewhat leaky ban on exports of coal and other minerals, one of North Korea’s main sources of foreign exchange. The U.S. added further sanctions of its own in July, specifically naming and citing Mr Kim. Yet, none of these measures have appeared to change Mr Kim’s behaviour for the better, and is quite likely to have infuriated him still further.

Exhorting China to put more pressure on North Korea will be the main strategy of the triumvirate (America, Japan and South Korea), since the North Korean regime relies on China for its economic survival.

The Chinese government has become increasingly frustrated by Mr Kim – it voted in favour of the UN sanctions this year, though it has not always applied them rigorously. It is concerned that the collapse of Mr Kim’s regime might bring American troops to its frontier on the South Korean peninsula, along with a flood of refugees. China’s relations with America and its allies in Asia are also not at their best at the moment. It is disgruntled over the agreement between South Korea and America to host THAAD, a missile defence system, and has been unsettled over issues in the South and East China Seas. The West’s best hope of restraining North Korea is not only proving to be a slender one but hugely problematic.