Storm Warning – Count Down to Publication on 12 December (12.12.12)

Storm Warning: Riding the Crosswinds in the Pakistan-Afghan Borderlands is now available to pre-order and will be delivered immediately on publication and well before Christmas. See below for details of how to order.

Just click here: STORM WARNING

Book launches are planned in London the Houses of Parliament, in Shrewsbury, at the Munk School for Global Affairs in Toronto and in Islamabad



Storm Warning

Understanding Global Jihad Part 2 – Al Qaeda: A Global Franchise?

How robust is the Al Qaeda (AQ) global network? How and where does it operate? What sort of structure is it developing in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden? Who controls the shots? These and other questions are constantly under review as AQ morphs and adapts as the ‘game’ keeps changing.

A global terror organisation conducting complex major operations has to have an effective command and control mechanism. There is evidence that AQ control over its various ‘affiliates’ may be faltering.

As mentioned in my last post, over the last ten years al-Qaeda’s strategy has been to stage high profile mass-casualty attacks on Western targets. Recently al-Qaeda has had less success on this front and may be about to change its approach.

Intelligence suggests that the connections between core al-Qaeda and its local affiliates and allies are increasingly tenuous. As situations on the ground change, often the local affiliates react first and adapt tactics to realities. Only then does core al-Qaeda formally adopt the change and issue directives and communications in support. In 2009 al-Qaeda groups around the world were calling for attacks on China. When there was an uprising of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Province of Western China, Abu Yahya al-Libi reacted by issuing a statement condemning China as an enemy of Islam. Abu Yahya al-Libi is a hard-line Islamist ideologue and leading high-ranking official of al-Qaeda. He escaped from the US Bagram detention in July 2005. A CIA report on him says:

…He has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.

Of course al-Qaeda has always been hailed as a classic ‘post-modern’ entity, with its loose connections and dispersed (invisible?) controls. Is it now attempting to tighten things up? Local allies and affiliates are what provide al-Qaeda with its power and reach and ability to morph unexpectedly.  Al-Qaeda needs to have an effective relationship to make things work, especially to allow it to operate in places that would otherwise be beyond its reach. What is in it for the allies? Mainly they stand to gain funding, recruits, status, and ideological reinforcement.

There are difficulties and downsides for both parties and this may be the Achilles heel for al-Qaeda in the long run.  There can friction about whose agenda prevails, the presence of foreign fighters may cause resentment, or the local group may have the chance of joining a national government. All this has a new relevance with the death of Osama bin Laden.

Understanding Golbal Jihad in 2011

With the death of Osama bin Laden, where is Al Qaeda and its Global Jihad going? This is the first of a series of postings aimed at analysing jihadist ideology. Firstly, we have to ask – is Al Qeada headless? If not, then who is in control? Is there an internal power struggle going on inside Al Qaeda? What is the shape of Al Qaeda now? Is the centre of Al Qaeda operations shifting? These are some of the questions we will aim to address. In this and subsequent posts.

Jihadist Core Aims

Al Qaeda’s ideology of global jihad remains at the core of its operations, and the core Al Qaeda leadership remains, for now at least, in Pakistan. The first question is what is Al Qaeda’s central aim? It has all along been to remove foreign influence from the Islamic world (the Dar al Islam). Connected to this is the aim of creating a worldwide Caliphate or Muslim Empire with world domination. This harks back to the glories of the long gone Ottoman Empire. These aims require Al Qaeda leaders to articulate a further argument, namely that the Muslim World is under attack from the West and that the West, under American leadership, is the source of many the problems of the Muslim World. This makes violent jihad a sacred duty for all good Muslims. Unlike terror groups like the IRA or ETA, Islamism is not a nationalist movement. It rejects the modern state, and nationhood, and secular law. Instead it speaks of a ‘brotherhood’ and reaches out to all ‘true’ Muslims everywhere and incites them to Jihad against the infidel. 

In order to sustain this position, the Al Qaeda leadership has had to foment and provoke endless conflicts and tension bewteen Muslims and non-Muslims. Under Osama bin Laden, the preferred method of achieving this has been to stage spectacular high casualty attcks on Western targets like the 9/11 attacks on the USA, the 7/7 bombings in London, and the train bombings in Madrid. These attacks usually have little military or economic impact, but they do highten tensions and they are intended to provoke hostile responses from the ‘West’. This serves the aim of keeping the pot boiling and fuelling a sense of resentment among Muslims.

Core Al Qaeda and Pakistan

It is becoming clear that Al Qaeda’s capacity to perpetrate these major attacks is becoming degraded. Where do they go from here? A number of key core AQ leaders have been killed by US missile strikes in the last two years; most notably Mustapha Abu al-Yazid (head of finance) and Saleh al-Somali (Head of External Operations). Many of core AQ’s attacks on Western targets are masterminded from Pakistan. The need for regular travel from Pakistan to other countries makes them very vulnerable as the borders are watched very closely by intelligence agencies. On the other hand remote regions of Pakistan, like South Waziristan, provide a formidable hideout, especially as the Pakistani authorities are selective about which terrorists they attack. Bomb plots, like the 2009 attempt against the New York subway, have been thwarted due to the surveilance of suspicious travel patters.  Indeed the death of Osama bin Laden was achieved through careful surveillance of travel patters of core AQ couriers.

Given these difficulties core Al Qaeda is increasingly reliant upon its worldwide network of affilliates to fulfil its global plan. More on this in the next post

World Opinion on Global Warming – Driven by the Media?

According to a new Gallup Poll, People worldwide are more likely to blame human activities than nature for the rise in temperatures associated with climate change. Thirty-five percent of adults in 111 countries in 2010 say global warming results from human activities, while less than half as many (14%) blame nature. Thirteen percent fault both. Also 30% were not aware of any global warming.

Lawrence Solomon, executive director of Energy Probe, and the author of The Deniers comments:

“A plurality of the world’s population is unaware that Earth has been warming, according to a just released Gallup poll. This plurality – 36% of the world’s population – overwhelmingly resides in the undeveloped parts of Asia and Africa, where access to the media is limited. The same Gallup Poll found that 35% of the world’s population have heard of global warming and predominantly blame humans. This 35% has ready access to media information.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where 54% are not aware that their climate is alleged to be warming, a mere 22% have heard of the global warming issue and predominantly blame humans for the warming. In undeveloped Asia, 48% are unaware that the climate is warming and 27% predominantly blame humans.

The Gallup survey did not investigate the role of the media in shaping public perceptions of global warming.

The Gallup Poll, which shows surveys results by 111 individual countries as well as by region, shows beliefs about global warming to vary dramatically from country to country. Only 4% of Greeks, for example, consider nature to be the dominant force in global warming, on fourth that of some of its neighbours. In North America, Canada and the U.S. are almost mirror images of each other in terms of beliefs in global warming.”

To see Gallup’s questions, and the responses by region and by country, click here.

Economists and the Nonsense at the heart of the Academy

Roger Bootle  writes an interesting piece in the Business Section of the Daily Telegraph on April 25, in which he exposes the sham of much modern ‘mathematical’ economics. He has dipped his toe into one small corner of the world of academic obscurantism. Since the depths of the world economic crisis the economists have ‘slipped away into the night’ and well they might. Having played a major part in causing the economic crisis, who knows what follies they might concoct in the future. Hardly any academic economists saw the financial crisis coming. In fact most of them were looking in completely the wrong direction, as were our government and Prime Minister. Mathematicians and computer modellers have taken control of academic economics with the result that the data is tortured into submission by ever more complex mathematical modellers and econometricians. The great Keynes was a mathematicion, who laid aside maths in the interest of more common sense conclusions, based on a deep knowledge of society, institutions, history, humanity and good judgement.

According to Bootle, himself an economist, what emerges from modern economics is mostly banal and useless and often incomprehensible. ‘Those who profess to know about economics in practice often know nothing. And they are so obsessed with the mathematical complexity of what they produce that they pay insufficient attention to the ideology that creeps, insidiously, into what they say and write’, he says. These thoughts make one think of another shaky area of modern science – climate science – which is in the grip of computer modellers and the Global Warming ideology, but that is another story of science getting too close to policy-makers. Continue reading

Royal Wedding

British Monarchy Irrigates the Dustbowl of Modern Statecraft

The wedding of William and Catherine is an event that runs counter to many ‘modern’ norms. First of all it is a celebration of the hereditary principal. Here is a family that provides our head of state. This is a statement that says that there is a power in our land greater than the politicians. It is an old truism that, ‘the sovereign, our Queen, reigns but does not rule’.

Sovereign power rests with the monarch. No politician can take power without first receiving executive power from the Crown. The highest power in the United Kingdom is the Crown-in-Parliament. A sort of fiction, but a useful and powerful fiction.

At the time of a Royal Wedding we are reminded that the monarchy brings colour, pageantry and unity to Britain in a way that a political president (probably a superannuated party politician) could never do.

C.S. Lewis captures the essence of the issue with his usual insight:

“Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?’ said Jane Austen’s Miss Bingley. ‘Much more rational,’ replied Mr Bingley, ‘but much less like a ball.’

In the same way, it would be much more rational to abolish the English monarchy. But how if, by doing so, you leave out the one element in our state which matters most? How if the Monarchy is the channel through which all the vital elements of citizenship – loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principal, splendour, ceremony, continuity – still trickle down to irrigate the dustbowl of modern economic Statecraft?”

Is it for these reasons that much of the world will look on spellbound on Friday?

How Scientific is Climate Science?


For years, some researchers have argued that the evidence for global warming is not nearly as strong as has been officially claimed. The details of the arguments are often technical. As a result, policy makers and other people outside the debate have relied on the pronouncements of a group of climate scientists. I think that is unnecessary. I believe that what is arguably the most important reason to doubt global warming can be explained in terms that most people can understand.

Figure 1. Global temperatures.

Consider the graph of global temperatures in Figure 1, which uses data from NASA. At first, it might seem obvious that the graph shows an increase in temperatures. In fact the story is more involved.

Imagine tossing a coin ten times. If the coin came up Heads each time, we would have very significant evidence that the coin was not a fair coin. Suppose instead that the coin was tossed only three times. If the coin came up Heads each time, we would not have significant evidence that the coin was unfair: Getting Heads three times can reasonably occur just by chance.

Figure 2. Coin tosses: H, T, H (left); T, H, T (mid); H, T, T (right).

In Figures 2 and 3, each graph has three segments, one segment for each toss of a coin. If the coin came up Heads, then the segment slopes upward; if it came up Tails, then it slopes downward. In Figure 2, the graph on the far left illustrates tossing Heads, Tails, Heads; the middle graph illustrates Tails, Heads, Tails; and the last graph illustrates Heads, Tails, Tails. Figure 3 illustrates Heads, Heads, Heads.

Figure 3. Coin tosses: H, H, H.

Three Heads is not significant evidence for anything other than random chance occurring. A statistician would say that although the graph shows an increase, the increase is “not significant”.

Suppose now that instead of tossing coins, we roll ordinary six-sided dice. We will roll each die three times. If a die comes up 1, we will draw a line segment downward; if it comes up 6, the segment is drawn upward; and if it comes up 2, 3, 4 or 5, the segment is drawn straight across. Figure 4 gives some examples of possible outcomes.

Figure 4. Dice rolls: 3, 6, 3; 1, 5, 2; 4, 6, 1.

Now consider Figure 5, which corresponds to rolling 6 three times. This outcome will occur by chance just once out of 216 times, and so offers significant evidence that the die is not rolling randomly. That is, the increase shown in Figure 5 is significant.

Figure 5. Dice rolls: 6, 6, 6.

Note that Figure 3 and Figure 5 look identical. In Figure 3, the increase is not significant; yet in Figure 5, the increase is significant. These examples illustrate that we cannot determine whether a line shows a significant increase just by looking at it. Rather, we must know something about the process that generated the line. But in practice, the process might be very complicated, which can make the determination difficult.

Consider again the graph of global temperatures in Figure 1. We cannot tell if global temperatures are significantly increasing just by looking at the graph. Moreover, the process that generates global temperatures—Earth’s climate system—is extremely complicated. Hence determining whether there is a significant increase is likely to be difficult. Continue reading