Jul 9 2015

Scylla and Charybdis

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By Professor Michael Cox, Director of LSE IDEAS and Professor of International Relations at LSE, currently in Greece.

Oxi campaignIn his extraordinary journey from the city of Troy back to his beloved homeland, that great figure of Greek mythology – Odysseus – faced many trials. However, none was more testing than that which he confronted towards the end of his long voyage.

For as his ship sailed on into a very narrow stretch of water, it confronted a double threat. On one side of the straits lived a horrifying monster, Charybdis, a huge ship-devouring whirlpool. But on the other were a group of sharp rocks guarded by Scylla  a six- headed monster, equally awful and just as deadly.  Sail too close to those rocks in order to avoid the giant whirlpool and one was doomed. But edge too near to the whirlpool in order to keep away from the rocks and one’s fate was sealed.

In the end of course Odysseus passed this test – as he had all the others before- and after further adventures was finally reunited with the love of his life, the beautiful and faithful Penelope.

Oxi PosterThe Odyssey is a terrific story of course. But unlike most Greek stories (the ones that happened in real life!) this one had a  happy ending. Unfortunately, the story with its reassuring outcome is a myth.

Admittedly a nice myth. However, a myth nonetheless. If only real life had been quite so kind to the Greeks. But as anybody with even a passing knowledge of the nation’s past knows only too well, the history of the country has been less than kind to its people. Indeed, Greek history has been littered with disaster, from its conquest by the Turks in the 15th century through to two terrible wars followed by civil war in the 20th. Little wonder tragedy as an art form has for so long been associated with Greece. And for good reason. Greece invented it.

One must also wonder whether the current Greek government – which has been on an odyssey all of its own over the past few months – will be able to navigate its way through the dangerous narrow straits in which it now finds itself. For right now it clearly stands between a very sharp rock and a very hard place. Naturally, it could accept what is on offer by its creditors. But if it were to do so, then the economy would deteriorate even further and its people continue to suffer, the elderly and the poor most directly. However, if it were to refuse the deal now on the table  then it would mean ‘Grexit’ – in other words full-scale economic collapse.

Time is running out for Greece. Last Sunday the government took a calculated risk hoping that a big No  vote – which it got – would strengthen its  hand. In truth, it is finding the opposite is true across Europe where many are now openly trying to push Greece out of the Eurozone, and in effect out of the EU too. ‘It’s time for Greece to go’ opined the political editor of the influential weekly newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ just the other day. “Neither the eurozone nor Europe is best served by holding on to Greece” he went on. “An orderly exit by Greece from the euro’ is now a matter of urgency.”

Tragically for the Greeks, an increasing number of Europeans happen to agree with him.

Life, it seems was so much easier for the Ancients.

Posted by: Posted on by barnsley

Sep 23 2014

The Hydra Effect of Terrorism and Al Shabab

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By Martha Molfetas, Researcher and Writer currently based in London.


Al ShahabWithin days of the targeted killing of Al Shabab leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, the group had appointed a new leader, Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah. In spite of governmental efforts at granting amnesty for Al Shabab militants, and coordinated regional and international military campaigns against Al Shabab, the group is launching new retaliatory attacks. These actions highlight the hydra-effect of terrorist networks and the necessity for a multi-faceted approach to anti-terrorism campaigns. Military arms and missions can only go so far, if we as a global community want to end terrorism, we must address the symptoms that allow for it to flourish rather than relying solely on military tactics.

The group is focused on striking African Union and AMISOM affiliates and the current UN-backed government of Somalia. Since Godane’s death, the government of Somalia has granted a 45-day amnesty period to encourage Al Shabab members to embrace peace. Unfortunately, Godane’s death depicts the effect of the hydra, and the potential to make martyrs out of terrorist leaders – encouraging retaliation and escalation. Godane’s death may create the undesirable effect of fortifying Al-Shabab’s message and encouraging further attacks in and around Somalia.

As the transitional government of Somalia was established and began to gain favour with the US and UN, America sent $10 million worth of arms in military aid in 2009 to fight Al-Shabab. This February it was reported that an undetermined per cent of these arms were diverted to Al-Shabab. In spite of capturing arms, Al Shabab has had their forces and geographical reach reduced substantially by successful African Union and AMISOM missions. However, as Al-Shabab has seen a reduction in areas they control within Somalia, they have turned their attention towards neighbouring states involved in anti-terrorism efforts, namely Kenya and Uganda. Last year, Al Shabab killed 67 people at the Westgate Mall attack in retaliation for Kenya’s contributions towards AMISOM. Since the targeted killing of Godane earlier this month, Ugandan authorities raided an Al-Shabab cell operating in Kampala. In Germany, potential Al-Shabab affiliates were detained on suspicion of planning an attack. And last week an Al-Shabab suicide bomber targeted an African Union convoy in Mogadishu, killing 12 and wounding 27.

Efforts against Al-Shabab through AMISOM, the government of Somalia, and the African Union have shown what a coordinated effort can achieve to quell terrorist networks with limited resources. These efforts orchestrate how integral local, national, and community driven military campaigns are to terror mitigation – something that has been lacking in other areas where US and international coalitions are the driving force, and little cooperation is made with local or regional bodies. While these efforts have diminished Al-Shabab’s presence in Somali communities, they are not addressing the long-term problems that allowed for Al Shabab to form in the first place.

Policies need to attack the symptoms that allow terrorism and insurgency to flourish, rather than focusing solely on the effects of these realities. If we’re going to target leaders of terrorist networks and aim to exterminate their presence, we need to do more than wage hard powers against these groups. In order to deter the spread of terrorism and continued recruitment into these networks, human development needs to take a front seat in security policies within these arenas. By purely attacking militarily these threats, we are only temporarily impacting the development and agendas of groups like Al-Shabab. If a two-pronged, long-term approach were initiated that focused on stymieing resources, containing groups, and providing development programmes for communities, groups like Al-Shabab would be few and far. Too often development and security agendas are disassociated from one another, and we’ve seen time and again history repeat itself in this regard.

More recently, the development and exploits of ISIS/ISIL show how long-term deprivement, conflict, looting, and under-development can allow groups to flourish. When will our security policies and dialogues incorporate more than just air strikes and armaments? We cannot fight the wars of today with tactics from the past. We need a collaborative approach that uses the best practices and resources of international development agencies and militaries, instead of one focused solely on killing terrorist leaders just so they can be quickly replaced. Otherwise, groups like ISIS/ISIL and Al-Shabab will continue to proliferate and pose a threat towards local communities, and our global security.



Martha Molfetas is a Researcher and Writer currently based in London. Her work focuses on conflict, climate change, natural resources, and livelihood development. She completed an MSc in Comparative Politics – Conflict Studies at the London School of Economics in 2011. For more on her work, check out her professional website.

Posted by: Posted on by LSE IDEAS

Jul 25 2014

A New Development Bank, An Old Dream Coming True


By Kamila Pieczara, Doctoral Student at The University of Warwick.


Development BankAt the recent summit of major emerging economies called the BRICS (B for Brazil, R for Russia, I for India, C for China, and S for South Africa), they announced the establishment of a new development bank and fund, in order to have an alternative to the old-order World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). These institutions have served the world’s financing needs, especially in the areas of development and crisis management, since post-war times.

The BRIC countries are known by this acronym thanks to Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who coined it in November 2001. Originally, it was BRIC, not BRICS – and did not include South Africa.

For a longer while, however, the Western financial institutions were deemed inadequate from the perspective of the rising economies. The problem is that these institutions are by all means “Western”. The IMF and the World Bank, “sister” organizations, were established as parts of the Bretton Woods system after the Second World War, and are both located in Washington DC. The custom has been that a European heads the IMF (now it is Christine Lagarde, ), while an American heads the World Bank (now it is Jim Yong Kim, originally from South Korea). This “tradition” has never been broken. It is indeed a paradox at a time when non-Western economies such as India or China play an ever increasing role not only in the world economy, but in diplomacy and military affairs as well. These countries have complained of their not increasing voting rights. There were changes, most notably in 2010, when China’s voting power in the World Bank was increased so that it overtook the voting power of some of the European countries. But the move to establish new financial institutions suggests that appetites of the BRICS have grown even further.

From many perspectives, it was long overdue for these countries to demand a greater say in world affairs. While they might not find it easy to fight some entrenched ideas, such as who are the presidents of the Bretton Woods institutions, these emerging economies have cash in abundance. They are able, therefore, to go beyond critique of the old order and move to the point where they can call the shots.

This is the story of the New Development Bank (NDB). Its establishment was announced by Brazil’s President Dilma Rosseff at the BRICS summit in Fortaleza in Brazil on 15 July 2014. The new development bank and the reserve fund will have capital of $100 billion. The bank will be located in Shanghai, China, and its first president will be from India. In the official statement, the reasons for establishing the bank are said to be connected to financing deficient infrastructure, so in principle complementing the activities of the World Bank and the IMF. If we had no possibility to recall the criticism that emerging countries of the East and of Latin America had towards global financial institutions, then we may well accept this logic. But the truth is that for a very long time countries such as China have complained that these existing institutions did not reflect their rising share in the global economy.

From this point of view, it is natural that a group of emerging economies has decided to launch its own financial institutions. Yet, the meaning of this step is that things have changed in the emerging world: it stopped to focus on criticism of the Western predominance in world affairs, and moved towards creating a new order.

True, there is the Asian Development Bank (ADB), established in the 1960s. It is located in the Philippines (a developing country), but its president has always been a national of Japan. From the perspective of the BRICS group, Japan is a developed economy and in a sense it is thus part of the Western governance. The New Development Bank, then, highlights the importance of China, with the location of its headquarters in Shanghai. It also opens the possibility for nationals of the BRICS to head the bank, without restrictions posed by the World Bank, the IMF, and even the Asian Development Bank.

From this perspective, the initiative of the NDB and the emergency reserve fund is a big success of the emerging economies. For the first time, they did not limit themselves to critique, but came with tangible results. In the not-so-distant past, such bold steps would have been unthinkable. This is a signal of a growing independence of the emerging world, represented by its most vibrant members, the BRICS. This is a signal of a growing independence of the emerging world, represented by its most vibrant members, the BRICS. An old dream of influencing the world of global finance has come true for the BRICS. It is hard to say at this point whether the practical significance of the BRICS bank will live up to the expectations. In any case, the NDB has become a symbol of the emerging economies’ action towards re-negotiating the pillars of the financial world order.

Posted by: Posted on by LSE IDEAS