Anglo-Saudi Relations: A Study in Realist International Theory

As we in the western world wrestle with the cultural theatrics that come with a modern brand of political correctness. From internet trolls to gender and racial tolerance; issues which are a far-cry from the cultural norms of Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of numerous basic human rights abuses and of funding international terrorism. So why does the UK, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and a self-proclaimed cradle for modern liberal values overtly engage in the sale of arms and support to the Saudi regime. Realism is a theory of international politics which insists that states act in a rational manner and only to further their own self-interests, as opposed to liberal theory; which posits that states ally themselves in accordance to shared values (known as norms).



In a realists’ world, the UK aligns itself with the House of Saud because the relationship is a beneficial one – in the sense that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia helps to expand the UK economy. The fact that such weapons are being used with complete disregard for Yemeni civilian life, does not seem to be a concern for the British government, as it should be according to subscribers of Liberal Theory (human rights being a supposed UK norm). In its 2016/2017 report, Amnesty International outlines the ways in which the Saudi state has also tightened its restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It continues to detain, arrest and prosecute writers and online commentators based on vague charges. It also pursues those who attempt to defend human rights within its borders: including founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and the Union for Human Rights (Amnesty International, 2017).

Though there is no conclusive evidence that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia is actively involved in the support of ISIL, there are sources which give credence to such allegations. In the famous leaked Emails which plagued Mrs. Clinton’s 2017 bid for the presidency, John Podesta wrote that the Saudis were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (Wikileaks, 2015) Published diplomatic cables from the US State Department serve to reinforce Podesta’s claim: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” (Wikileaks, 2009).

But all of this is disregarded by our government, because to address it would be counter-productive to the UK’s plans in the region. Which are representative of the West’s grander plan for the Middle-East; with the Saudi trade partnership and the mutual exchange of oil and arms at its centre. Besides the economic benefits of such a partnership, the UK is willing to ignore Saudi funding of ISIL because the alliance provides the West with a somewhat reliable ally in opposition to Iran, the Taliban and other actors the UK deems as a threat to her interests.

So a few people have their rights infringed upon, and some people may lose their lives because of terrorism, or paradoxically find themselves imprisoned on vague anti-terrorist charges. The fact is, in a realist world system, these things clearly don’t count for much.

 

Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia 2016/2017” (2017): Accessible: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Congrats!, John Podesta Email Chain” (2015): Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3774 (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance” (2009) Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09STATE131801_a.html (Accessed 17/09/2017)

What is Boris up to?

It has been an exhilarating week in Parliament. The Repeal Bill has passed its second reading, the Government has u-turned on the public sector pay cap and Labour gained victories on NHS pay and tuition fees. It has been quite a few days before recess.

Unfortunately, it has also been the week where terror has returned to the country. An explosion at Parsons Green Tube Station saw a number of people injured, although thankfully it appears no loss of life or life threatening injuries. This has led to the Prime Minister raising the security level to critical from severe, meaning an attack is believed to be imminent.

It is amidst this backdrop that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has decided that now is the time to intervene.  In a piece for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson has set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain. Most prominently in this article, Johnson has repeated the controversial claim that leaving the EU would save £350m a week, which could be spent on the NHS. Unsurprisingly, this has created a lot of headlines.



This article has drawn criticism from some senior figures in the Conservative Party. Will Tanner, a former adviser to Theresa May called the article a “prelude to resignation” and Ruth Davidson in what was widely perceived as an attack on Boris Johnson said at the present time “the only thoughts should be on service.” Another unnamed Conservative MP described this as an “extraordinarily selfish act.”

Allies of the Foreign Secretary have claimed the article was authorised by 10 Downing Street and that Johnson was merely setting out his position. However, accepting this argument is highly naïve. When penning this article, Johnson and allies would have known it would be interpreted as a leadership bid and the resulting problems this could then cause the Prime Minister, who is due to give a major Brexit speech on Friday. Johnson is no novice.

It is unclear what Johnson is up to here. Leadership; resignation; clearing his name; putting pressure on the PM or a mixture of these things. Take your pick! Regardless, the timing is appalling and will not help the Foreign Secretary or his reputation. It was reported earlier this week Number 10 has been attempting to keep Johnson on board. I think we can now safely say this attempt has just failed! Prior to party conference, Johnson has given the PM another headache.

 

 

Donald Trump and The Consequences of Society’s “Attention Deficit”

January 20th of this year seems so long ago now, but I implore you to cast your mind back, as many media moguls and tycoons do so fondly; a day for headlines. Of course, it arrived in tow with obligatory cries of fake news and unprofessional reporting; as pictures circulated on social media showing the extensive size or lack thereof regarding the crowd gathered for Donald Trump’s inauguration. This of course sparked debate across the USA and indeed the world; once again lavishing Mr. Trump with the attention he so desperately needs to sustain his ever-burgeoning ego.

Media coverage proved to be a cornerstone of the Trump campaign and indeed it seems likely to play a large role in his presidency. Though many are always willingly enthralled by the President’s latest faux-pas, the result of this 24-hour Big Brother Trump-watch is often that many more important stories go without remark. This phenomenon reveals the true nature of the global media and thus, as consumers of information, we find ourselves bound by an attention deficit; there is an unspecified, finite amount of attention to be divided among various issues. Regarding this, Trump’s titanic share of the day’s headlines can be manipulated by Republican leaders and his administrations’ various antics used to distort the visibility of vastly more important issues.



Famous psycholinguist-turned-activist Noam Chomsky in “A Continuing Conversation with Geographers” commented specifically concerning Trump’s ‘Russia scandal’ and about the way news coverage has been manipulated by high-ranking legislative representatives:

parts of the governmental structure that are beneficial to human beings and to future generations are being systematically destroyed, and with very little attention.

(Noam Chomsky Videos, July 2017)

Chomsky outlines the way in which single-minded programs are being employed by what he identifies as ‘Paul Ryan Republicans’, their prerogative being: offer gifts to the rich and powerful, and “kick everyone else in the face”. (ibid.)

              So, it seems clear that Republicans in both the Senate and the House have come to recognise the utility of Trump in the White House, in fact, they are able to constantly rely upon Trump and his administration as a deflector of negative attention. This allows them to get to work dismantling Obama Care and reducing funding for public welfare programs. But beyond this, perhaps the reality: that there is a distinctly finite amount of attention that the public has at its disposal, is itself a threat to a healthy, modern democracy? Could the fact that, on a cognitive level, we can only follow so many narratives, lead us to become ignorant of what is really going on – of what really matters?

 

How many stories did you miss today?

#Moggmentum

It is impossible to write anything political at present, without prefacing it by saying how unpredictable politics is. Brexit, the rise of Trump and Corbyn’s Labour etc. This, neatly brings us to the curious case of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset. Prior to this summer Rees-Mogg was somewhat a laughing stock. His posh accent and old-fashioned views made him a walking stereotype. This summer though, something has changed. Rees-Mogg has become one of the favourites to be the next Conservative leader. What has changed?

Firstly, there is no obvious pretender to the Conservative throne. This means journalists and pundits are looking outside of the Cabinet for future leaders. Secondly, Rees-Mogg has authenticity. His opinions are controversial, but there is no doubt where he stands on the major issues of the days. Thirdly, he is a good media performer. His dry sense of humour and articulate speaking style has made him a favourite amongst media producers. Lastly, everyone is looking for the next political shock.

So, can it happen? Rees-Mogg has claimed stories he will stand as the next party leader are part of the media’s silly season but other reports claim he has sounded out friends about his leadership ambitions. He has also just topped ConservativeHome’s survey of party members on who they would like to be next Tory leader.

Comparisons have been made with Corbyn’s rise, but it is important to note Conservative leadership contests have different rules to Labour ones. Rather than all candidates being presented straight to the membership, the parliamentary party first whittles the choice down to two candidates. Rees-Mogg would have support from the Right of the party, but it is clear there would be a significant stop Rees-Mogg campaign, indicating it would be difficult for Rees-Mogg to reach the final two.

If Rees-Mogg was to reach the final two, it is possible he could win. His Eurosceptic stance and traditionalist leanings are popular with Conservative members. But, we are a long way from this scenario. Currently there is no vacancy, and it is unclear when this contest would happen and what the political climate will be. Crucially Rees-Mogg would also have to gain support from the Parliamentary Party. That appears unlikely.

#Moggmentum may be picking up, but I still wouldn’t put any money on Jacob Rees-Mogg being the next Conservative leader.

 

Debate Essentials

Debating in public, whether at university or college can seem like an intimidating prospect. The possibility of forgetting your lines, stumbling over your words or even being embarrassed by an opponent are enough to put many off.

This paints a rather daunting picture. So how can these nerves be defeated? And, how can you ensure that you perform to your best in a debating environment?

These are some potential do’s and don’ts which should hopefully offer some guidance on how you can overcome any issues and reach your debating peak.

Do’s

Be Yourself

Every individual person is different. Not all can be great orators, have perfect comedic timing or even be able to retain a lot of information. However, this does not mean that you cannot be an effective debater.

This means you should be confident in your own individual style. There is no point trying to be something that you are not. You need to play to your strengths. Debate in a way and a manner that you feel comfortable with and highlights who you are as a person.

Know Your Argument

A successful debater will have a strong grasp of their brief. They will be able to provide detailed information and answers on their topic. This means knowing your facts. No matter how you are feeling, having a good grasp of these details is crucial.

A failure to understand your argument or do the necessary research can make you look foolish and can give an advantage to your opponent. Not all the facts or detail has to be used, but you should be prepared to use them if necessary.

Practice

You will not be able to replicate the exact style or format of the debate, but that does not mean you should not practice (bringing friends along to change the atmosphere can also help!) Practice can help with your confidence and can make you feel more secure in your arguments and positions.

Once you are confident with your argument, it is then vital to be able to turn off. Over practising can be potentially damaging and can often make you more nervous. Each individual has to find their optimum level of comfort and walk away from practice when the time is right.

Try and Enjoy Yourself

This is easier said than done! However, it is good to remember why you have put yourself in this place in the first time. This is something that you feel passionate about and that you enjoy. This shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Once you have begun to make your points, you will find that you settle down and that your nerves will begin to dissipate. When this happens, it is quite natural to begin to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable in your environment.

 

Don’ts

Get Angry

Anger is not your friend. Anger will take you out of your comfort zone and will lead you to stop focussing on your argument and the points that you want to make. From a basic perspective, this will make you less effective.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t be passionate, but there is a clear difference between passion and anger. Understanding this, and understanding how to control your emotions is key for anyone in a debate format.

Get Personal

Personal arguments do not win debates or make good speeches. They take the focus away from the points that you are making and give succour to your opponents who will believe they have been successful in dictating the terms.

It is also not good practice. Choosing to attack the man rather than the ball will make you careless. It will take your focus off your argument and your points and could form a habit. This is not a good habit for any debater to get themselves in.

Worry About Nerves

Nerves happy to everyone. No matter how many times you debate or how many times you speak you will always get nervous. Having nerves before you speak is not anything to worry about and in reality just makes you human.

In addition, don’t be concerned about mistakes. Mistakes also happen to everyone. If you don’t believe me just watch a debate in the House of Commons. When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is refocus and concentrate on your initial aim.

Worry about how You Sound

This seems like a really small issue, but is one that needs to be made. Very few people are comfortable with how they sound or how they speak. This can be blindingly evident when you speak in front of people for the first time.

As best as you can, this has to be put to the back of your mind. Remember, it is not how you are talking or the accent that you have that matters, but it is the points you are making. That is what must dictate your performance.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are just a few do’s and don’ts. It is firmly up to you whether you take this advice.

Anyway good luck and get debating!

 

What should we make of Labour’s new Brexit stance?

The debate around Brexit has focussed largely on the Conservative Party to date, but this week Labour sought to give further detail on their position. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer in an article for The Observer confirmed the Labour Party would seek a transitional deal with the EU and would hope to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market during this period.

The transitional period would be “as short as possible, but as long as necessary” and in that period the country would abide by the common rules of both the customs union and the single market. This means that throughout this transitional stage freedom of movement would continue.

The reaction in the Labour Party to this announcement has been mixed. Chuku Umunna, a leading supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain group described the statement as a “most welcome announcement.” However, some at the top of the party described the move as “unwise” and “incredibly damaging.”

This debate has been ongoing behind the scenes in the Labour Party for some time, but will be analysed as a victory for the ‘Europhiles’ or the ‘Soft Brexit’ contingent of the party and represents a shift in position. Two months ago, Jeremy Corbyn sacked members of his front-bench after they supported an amendment designed to keep the UK in the Single Market and a month ago he confirmed Labour would leave the Single Market.

Although, this position is likely to gain favour with the pro-EU portions of Labour support in student areas and London in particular; it will not be universally popular. To the pro-Leave Labour supporters a transitional deal with no clear end and continued freedom of movement will feel like a betrayal. This could be damaging for the party in Leave marginals across the Midlands and the North.

Accepting the need for a transitional period is sensible from the Labour Party. The refusal, however, to clarify a clear end date for this transitional period will worry voters. Some voters may assess this as the Labour Party looking for a way to stay in the EU indefinitely and renege on their agreement to respect the referendum result.

The Labour Party could now face a difficult few months as they see how this policy lands with their voters and whether there will be any push-back.