Is it time for Labour to consider a progressive alliance?

A recent report from the Fabian Society has suggested that the time may have come for the Labour Party to seek new ways of winning power. The report concluded that the Labour Party has little chance of winning the 2020 General Election and should consider working with parties such as the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in order to return to government.

Previously the idea of a progressive alliance had been raised by front-bencher Clive Lewis who claimed that working with other parties was essential to beating the Conservatives. This advice has largely been rejected by the party but with the current polls placing Labour in a disastrous position, is the Labour Party really in a position where they can afford to ignore such advice?

From a purely electoral perspective the benefits seem clear. In seats where Labour are the main opposition they can be given a free run at the Conservatives and where Labour are too far behind they can allow a better placed party a free run. Logically the end result would be progressive parties being more competitive in more seats and thus giving the Labour Party and its new allies a better chance of being in power. So what is the downside?

Tactically this sort of deal could prove very difficult. For instance could the parties who are used to fighting each other agree to work with each other and would local party constituencies be happy with any deal. From a policy angle there are also slight but clear differences between the parties. Could Labour act with a party that supports independence for Scotland in the SNP or a second referendum in the Liberal Democrats? Lastly in this scenario you have to consider the response of the opposition. The Conservatives were incredibly successful at playing on voters fears of an SNP-Labour coalition at the last election and would happily go back to their old playbook.

Rightly or wrongly at present the Labour Party still considers themselves a party of government. Therefore for the time being any permanent deal with opposition parties will be firmly rejected. Occasionally at a by-election or local elections pacts may be struck but don’t expect this to be a common theme. The Labour Party may well be on its way to its worst defeat in living memory, but regardless of how bad it becomes there will be no progressive alliance.



Should the Labour Party ever support military intervention?

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn it appears unlikely that Labour will ever support military intervention or the use of military force. Corbyn is famous for his anti-war views and during the leadership hustings memorably said he could not imagine a situation where he would send British troops abroad. Therefore is this now a position which will now be adopted by the whole Labour Party.

Corbyn is clearly not the only figure within the Labour movement who feels this way. The Labour Party is still haunted by the spectre of Iraq and is now incredibly cautious about any further military intervention, shown in the last Parliament with their position on Syria. This view is shared by the general public who are war weary. The Iraq debacle has taken its toll and the public are sceptical about further military excursions. Corbyn’s positions on other defence and military issues could well be damaging, but on this subject he is likely to have the support of the public.

The world however is changing and is rarely black and white anymore. New threats are emerging which will have to be investigated and tackled and it would be foolish to rule anything out. There are also certain principles inherent to the Labour Party which may mean at times military intervention is a policy they should support. The Labour Party has prided itself on standing up for the vulnerable and defending those who cannot defend themselves. There is a number of different ways that you can do this, but there may come a time when military force or intervention is the only option to achieve these principles. Labour as a responsible opposition also have a duty to consider sensibly everything the government brings forward before just opposing it.

The Labour Party is a broad church made up of many different opinions and on this subject like many others there is likely to be disagreements. Corbyn has clear ideals in this area and they are to be respected, but there will be times when his instincts may be wrong as situations will rarely be clear-cut. Foreign policy is an ever changing beast and no-one can truly predict what will happen in the future and politically you must give yourself room to manoeuvre.  This means it would be the wrong move to ever totally rule out military intervention and the Labour Party as a whole must resist any move in this direction.

China’s human rights record must always be on the table!

Over the last month there has been a greater focus on Britain’s relationship with China. This is mainly due to China’s substantial investment in this country and the closer bonds that now exist between the two countries. However the greater prominence China has received in the media has also led to questions about human rights abuses and how much we know about the country that we are dealing with.

China is still a one party state and the government censors and controls the information that is given to citizens. The government continues to crack down hard on any political opponents and there is no sign of a transition to a truly democratic state anytime soon. Their policies towards Tibet are also highly controversial and are very repressive.

It is easy to see why China is considered an attractive ally though for this government and for Britain as a whole. They are the second largest economy in the world, soon to be the first and can bring with them significant investment. This is important to any country and must not be downplayed. Despite these numerous benefits, China still must not be given a free hand on human rights and Britain must not allow China’s considerable economic force to stop valid concerns being raised.

Human rights are universal. We have made great progress across the world in this regard but we still have a long way to go. Regardless of where you are born and what you believe you should be treated equally and with dignity. This is still not the case everywhere in the world. There are many who still face persecution because of what they believe and what they stand for or even where they were born. If we truly care about our fellow human then it can never be acceptable to ignore these abuses regardless of who commits them.

The government has insisted that human rights discussions are very much on the table and that a closer relationship with China gives them more scope to discuss these issues. It is imperative that this is not simply a soundbite but becomes reality. Too many people in China still suffer from great human right tragedies and it will always be our duty to make sure their voices are heard. Quite simply this is something we cannot run from.

MPs were right to vote to leave Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is renowned across the world. The buildings are a place of great historical significance and repute and the envy of many. The buildings quite rightly occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of this nation and are a representation of our democracy and should be treasured. They are one of the great tourist venues and help to portray this country all over the world.

Yet, despite all of this MPs were right to vote to relocate away from Westminster so refurbishments could take place.

MPs this week voted by 236 to 220 to support an amendment that saw members across the House come together to back a full programme of works that is likely to result in the House of Commons moving to a venue in Whitehall from the middle of the next decade. This would be the first time Parliament has moved out of the palace of Westminster since the Commons chamber was destroyed by a bomb in 1941.

The amendment successfully defeated Government proposals which would have further delayed a final decision. The Government appear to have been worried the cost of the repairs, part of a proposed £5.6 billion modernisation would be hard to justify in a time of economic hardship. MPs in the end appear to have been convinced to support the amendment due to the potential risk of a large scale fire.

Of course, the cost of repairs is far from ideal, however the alternatives are far worse. Firstly, the longer a decision is delayed the greater the costs of the repair are likely to be. Secondly, the risk of a catastrophic event is now quite significant. Thirdly, the building in many parts is no longer fit for purpose. This means carrying on as before is no longer an option. A report from the Joint Committee of the Palace of Westminster further underlines this point.

This decision should not be seen as MPs simply spending money on themselves. Nor, should it be viewed as a selfish or irresponsible decision. The repairs for Westminster are a necessity and the sooner they begin than the sooner MPs can return back to the Palace.

The Houses of Parliament are places where our elected representatives make decisions on our behalf, important decisions which shape our future. These decisions should be made in a building fit for purpose and not in danger of calamity. This is not the end for the Palace of Westminster, but merely the start of a new beginning.

Why we must avoid tax (and what to do about it)

With John McDonnell in Davos once again suggesting that business should “be ashamed[1]” of tax avoidance, it is perhaps time to reiterate why he is wrong.

We are all familiar with Friedman’s concept that the socially responsible thing for business to do is to maximise its profits[2], an idea which stems from the father of economics Adam Smith. However, this will not be the subject of this article.  John McDonnell couches his argument in moral terms, and it is on these terms that I shall reply.

I would contend that to not engage in tax avoidance is immoral and undemocratic and therefore must be avoided at all costs.

Managers of companies face a choice if there is an opportunity for tax avoidance: to pay the tax or not.  If they decide not to take the avoidance route and pay the tax, they are effectively taking the decision of what the socially responsible decision is. This is a problem, as these are not democratically elected positions. Furthermore, how are they to know what the socially optimal outcome is? It is possible, and highly likely, that a more socially optimal outcome is achievable in other ways, likely through a pursuit of shareholder value maximisation. In this case, we are effectively placing the allocation decision in the hands of a small number of unelected businessmen. How can it be just that “these public functions of taxation… be exercised by the people who happen at the moment to be in charge of particular enterprises?”[3]

The allocation decision must be placed in the hands of democratically elected officials who we can remove at the next election.  It is their job to set out the laws to define this decision.  There is no need for there to be a social responsibility question to be decided by managers. It is the government who have set the rules and the level of taxation that is payable. This is the democratic decision, for managers to do anything other than engage in all legal measures to reduce the tax bill, is to deprive parliament of its ability to decide on the agreed upon socially optimal outcome.

If we want the level of tax avoidance to fall, because for whatever reason, there has been a collective decision that the government requires more spending power, then it is the tax code that must change. It is not acceptable to expect managers to do so voluntarily as this would be undemocratic.

We currently have the longest tax code in the world and it has tripled in length since 1997.  If we want companies and individuals to pay more tax then it is this that must change.  This fact also exposes the rank hypocrisy of the Labour criticism of tax avoidance.  It was largely under their watch that we experienced this massive increase in tax regulation and so they can hardly be surprised when managers of companies and individuals take up the opportunities to minimise their tax bill.

We must, therefore, stop the endless criticism of those who engage in tax avoidance.  This practice provides us with more funds for investment, that will be invested more efficiently and reduces waste. Furthermore, it helps to preserve our democracy and helps to keep at bay the corporate state that threatens it.


[1] McDonnell, J. cited Miller, J (2018) ‘McDonnell takes aim at “big four” accountancy firms’ BBC News [online] Accessed: 26 January 2018. Available at:

[2] Friedman, M. (1970). The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits. The New York Times Magazine, pp.173-178.

[3] Friedman, M (1962). Capitalism and Freedom Chicago: University of Chicago Press

The Automation Risk in British parliamentary constituencies

Automation: the force modernity that drives forward progress towards a better future. Or is it? The risks of automation have been well documented by researchers in universities.  The most terrifying of these researchers is the one done by two Oxford University researchers, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne who both suggest that the number of jobs at risk of automation in the United States of America is 47%[1].  The fact that nearly half of all jobs are at some risk of automation should alarm policymakers.  However, the research is only for American employment. What would be the effect of automation and AI on British politics?

Research conducted by the Think Tank Future Advocacy has analysed the effects of automation by different British parliamentary constituencies to look at the risk of automation by each parliamentary constituency and their research identified that the constituency most at risk of automation was none other than John McDonald, the shadow chancellor’s seat of Hayes and Harlington[2]. What I have done is combined their analysis of the various constituencies and the parliamentary vote for both the Conservatives and Labour in 2017, the UKIP vote in 2015 and the EU referendum results in 2016.  The findings I believe are a good indication to look at the current state of politics in the UK.

Labour, the party of the workers and trade unions should have a strong correlation towards its vote being in areas at risk of automation. Yet, overall there was a negative correlation between Labour vote share and seats at risk of automation.

Labour Vote Versus Automation


The graph which plots Labour vote by constituency versus constituency risk of automation shows that Labour wins more votes in parliamentary constituencies where there is a lower risk of automation. That means Labour won votes in areas in the 2017 election[3] where jobs are less likely to be automated. If Labour wins in areas where jobs are less likely to be automated, then it must be the case that the Conservative party have an even stronger negative correlation between Conservative votes and constituency automation risk, right? Wrong.

It turns out that the Conservatives have a strong positive correlation between Conservative vote by constituency and automation risk. This means the Tories won a larger number of votes in the 2017 election in areas with a greater risk of automation.


Tory Vote Versus Automation

So, what is going in British elections for the Conservative voters to be more threatened by automation that the Labour Party? This research highlights underlying trends within British politics, that demographic voting trends have changed in Britain over the last two decades.

Firstly, the class is no longer a good predictor how people will vote in an election. Labour, the party of trade unions and the working class only received 44% of the working class vote in 2017 compared with 39% of the middle-class vote[4]. In contrast to this in the 1997 election, Labour won 57% of the working-class vote and just 34% of the middle-class vote[5]. Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn won more middle-class voters than Labour led by Tony Blair. The underlying trend here is that Labour over time has become more cosmopolitan, urbanised and diverse in its kind of voters, getting voters from young metropolitan graduates alongside ethnic minorities, public sector workers and women, whilst the Tories have concentrated greater support from older voters generally in smaller towns. The largest single predictor of how someone would vote in the 2017 election was not class but age; 63.6% of under-thirties voted for the Labour Party[6]. Compare this to the 63.5% of over the sixties voting for the Conservative Party[7] and it becomes clear that class is now a weak predictor of how people vote.

Secondly, it’s not entirely the case that Labour represented constituencies are overwhelmingly less likely to be threatened by automation. My research found a sort of paradox between Labour constituencies that are less threatened by automation and constituencies with a greater risk of automation. I have called this “The Eagle Paradox”. Why the Eagle Paradox? Because the Labour MPs of Maria Eagle and Angela Eagle represent constituencies on either end of the automation spectrum. Maria Eagle’s seat of Garston and Halewood is ranked 6 on the list of constituencies with the most risk of automation, whilst Angela Eagle’s constituency of Wallasey stands at 562 out of 632 seats. This illustrates the more complex nature of Labour’s constituencies; on the one hand, Maria Eagle represents the more traditional Labour constituency with large amounts of manufacturing typical of Labour heartland seats in the past. Angela Eagle represents the sort of constituency that Labour has improved in over the last two decades in seats which are a more middle class, cosmopolitan, urbanised constituencies.

Thirdly, a more disturbing tendency found in the research I conducted was that there was a strong link between Right-wing populism and constituencies. In the 2015 election, the UKIP party did significantly better in constituencies where jobs are at greater risk of automation.

UKIP vote Versus automation


The UKIP in 2015 was correlated with constituencies with a greater risk of automation[8]. The Conservatives at the 2017 election targeted UKIP voters who voted for Leave in the referendum s part of their electoral strategy. As a result, this would be a good indication of the reasons why Conservative vote is correlated with stronger support in areas with a greater propensity for automation because the Conservatives won UKIP voters. The nationalism and Right-wing populism behind the Conservative coalition of voters explain in part the reasons why the Conservatives are doing better in areas with a greater risk of automation. The Conservatives in part have successfully rebranded themselves as a populist, pro-Brexit, nationalist party whose voters are socially conservative, older and traditional in their outlook.  The strongest positive correlation between parliamentary constituencies does not come from political parties but from the European Union referendum result; constituencies, where the Leave vote was stronger, had a very strong correlation with parliamentary constituencies at risk of automation[9].

Leave EU vote versus automation

There is, therefore, a potential clear link between Right-wing populist movements on the one hand and automation; that area where jobs are at a greater threat of automation are vulnerable to Right-wing populist. This connection between Right-wing populism is not just limited to the UK. The New York Times piece, Robots Can’t Vote, but They Helped Elect Trump, Thomas Edsall cites research conducted at MIT that automation helped push people to the populist-Right of the political spectrum[10].  This he argued was a significant factor to the reasons why Donald Trump was elected in 2016 election. This gives us a warning that automation pushes voters to the clutches of the populist-Right.

[1] Carl Benedikt Frey, Michael A. Osborne, THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO COMPUTERISATION?, Oxford Martin School Publications, , September 17, 2013

[2] Matthew Fenech, Cath Elliston, and Olly Buston, The Impact of AI in UK Constituencies: Where will automation hit hardest?, Future Advocacy,, 2017

[3] Vote share figures from the election were accessed in Vyara Apostolova, Lukas Audickas, Carl Baker, Alex Bate,Richard Cracknell, Noel Dempsey, Oliver Hawkins, Rod McInnes, Tom Rutherford, Elise Uberoi, General Election 2017: results and analysis, House of Commons Library, BRIEFING PAPER Number CBP 7979

[4] Ibid, page 43

[5]   Ipsos-Mori, How Britain voted 1997, 31st May 1997,

[6] Chris Curtis, How Britain voted 2017, Yougov,

[7] Ibid

[8] UKIP vote accessed at, UK; Olivia  Hawkins, Richard Keen,  Nambassa  Nakatude, House of Commons Library, General Election: Results and Analysis, Briefing Paper, Number CBP7186, 28 July 2015. The outlier in the graph is the constituency of Clacton that UKIP managed to win in the 2015 election.

[9] Leave Vote in EU referendum accessed Map ( ; Martin Baxter, Electoral


[10]  Thomas B. Edsall, Robots Can’t Vote, but They Helped Elect Trump, New York Times, January 11th 2018,

All graphs were created by the author himself with help from research

Erdogan’s defining moment

Armed with fighter jets, tanks, and Syrian rebel proxies, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened yet another wound in Syria. Already complex, Turkish ground presence in the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin threatens to push Syria’s civil war into a new phase of turmoil and bloodshed. Erdogan’s decision to send an invading force to repel YPG fighters from Turkey’s borders is enormously significant, and demonstrates exactly where Turkey’s foreign policy future lies.

Make no mistake, the addition of Turkish troops to the melee serves not only to complicate matters, but in all likelihood aggravate them too. This is not least thanks to the positioning of the United States, the most powerful ally of both Turkey and the Kurdish YPG militia, until now the most effective fighting force against Islamic State on the ground.

In light of these developments, President Trump has since been keen to downplay the American support for the YPG, though refusing to equate the YPG with the PKK, who have been engaged in a thirty-year conflict with the Turkish state. Instead, Trump urged Turkey to ‘exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces’. Unfortunately, it’s a little late for that.

A useful leg for Turkey to stand on here is the good working relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the ruling body in northern Iraq. Though useful for any Turk wishing to dismiss allegations of systematic xenophobia against all things Kurdish, it is easy to see why such a relationship is worth maintaining for Erdogan.

As well as supplies of oil from a landlocked neighbour (what luck!), the KRG and in particular the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party provide a fantastic prop for domestic relations with Turkey’s own Kurds. Erdogan has focused much of his rapprochement efforts on the Iraqi Kurds rather than the PKK themselves, and as such one has to doubt the sincerity of such progress. It is far easier, I assume, to organise a photo shoot with Masoud Barzani than it is to fix a century of structural cruelty against 25% of your own population.

As well as the risk of upsetting his most important ally, Erdogan has laid bare the true focus of his foreign policy. In other areas Turkey has been unpredictable, with its relationships with Russia and the US springing to mind, but one focus has been consistent throughout tumultuous domestic conditions within Turkey: the opposition to any Syrian Kurdish successes.

Three years is a long time in Syria, but it was only three years ago that Turkish tanks sat on the border and watched as Kobani was put under siege by Islamic State militants for over three months. Contrast to this week, when under no immediate pressure, Turkey launched the oh-so-inappropriately-named Operation Olive Branch to clear YPG fighters from the very area they defended against Islamic State.

One thing is clear from this chaos: Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish independence movement as an existential threat to its existence. With that in mind, it perhaps seems obvious why Erdogan has chosen to mobilise against the YPG in Syria. After all, this is NATO’s second-largest army engaging with a stateless militia, and who wouldn’t take a chance on those odds with the stakes supposedly so high?

The answer to that question lies with the other players in the Middle East, most notably the United States. Just as with Iraq, the US is yet to lay out a truly workable goal for either state. In both cases, the US has been reticent to support the redrawing of boundaries, instead focusing its efforts on the type of governments that run the region. Worryingly for Erdogan, the biggest impact of Turkey’s incursion could well be the rethinking of that support.

Pressure builds on Theresa May

With Theresa May away in Davos this week, pressure has continued to mount on her at home. The latest drama begun with a tweet from Nick Boles who criticised the lack of ambition of the Government. This was followed by Sir Nicholas Soames who branded Theresa May’s vision as “dull, dull, dull.” The drama threatened to blow into a full-brown crisis when media reports indicated a vote of no confidence in Theresa May may be imminent.

Additionally, Theresa May has also had to deal with calls from Boris Johnson for more money for the NHS and Chancellor Philip Hammond angering Tory Brexiteers by calling for a soft Brexit.  This caused new chairman of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg to intervene who called for a fundamental change in ministers tone on Brexit.

So how much trouble is the Prime Minister in? In regards to a vote of no confidence in her leadership, no-one can be totally sure. A quirk of the Conservative leadership system is that only the chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady will be aware of how many letters he has been sent calling for this vote. This vote would be triggered if Mr Brady receives 48 letters, 15% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. It is hard to predict with any certainty how many letters Mr Brady has.

Events are starting to move in an ominous direction for the Prime Minister though. Firstly, the Brexiteers are starting to mobilise. Secondly, the criticism of May is becoming public.  Thirdly, the botched reshuffle highlighted how little authority the Prime Minister has. This is a powerful combination. This led to Philip Hammond calling on rebel Tories to “stick with” Theresa May.

Theresa May’s position has been under threat since the disastrous General Election. Famously described by George Osborne as a “dead woman walking” on the weekend after the election, nothing has changed since then. Theresa May has always been at the whim of her backbenchers. If the mood is turning bleaker then Theresa May’s grip on power is likely to be fading fast.

What may save her, is the only thing that has been saving her to date, mainly the Conservative Party doesn’t want a leadership contest and there is no obvious replacement. However, this won’t last for ever.  Theresa May and the Conservative leadership remain in a state of stasis. A leader with no vision and no plan will always be on borrowed time. And that is what it is increasingly feeling like with this Prime Minister.

The Madman Theory – Did Trump Scare North Korea?

It has been a fascinating transition from 2017 to 2018. At the end of 2017 we were facing the possibility of war between a nuclear-armed North Korea and the United States with Hawaii testing its nuclear attack sirens for the first time in close to three decades (Jones and Kelleher, December 2nd 2017).

In the rising tensions between the US and North Korea, it was Hawaii, that as one of the US states closest to North Korea, alongside Guam, was, if the North Koreans are to be believed, within range of their Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile with its range of 8,100 miles. This placed the US Pacific Command and the Naval base at Pearl Harbour, Oahu island, Hawaii and Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam within the reach of North Korea’s missile capabilities.  (deGrandpre, 11th August, 2017; Jones and Kelleher, December 2nd 2017).

Flashforward a few weeks and we are now talking about a renewal in North-South Korean high-level talks, the first in two years, the reopening of the emergency hotline between the two nations which has been down since February 2016 and North Korean participation in the February 2018 Winter Olympics (The BBC, 9th January 2018; McCurry, 9th January 2018).

How has this shift come about? Could the US under Trump have re-awakened the classic Nixon-Kissinger “Madman Theory” in an attempt to bring North Korea to heel and create this breakthrough?

The “Madman” Theory of Leadership

The “Madman” Theory of leadership related to the foreign policy approach taken by US President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. The theory was devised by Kissinger, who utilised the image of Nixon as an unpredictable and irrational President whose inclination was to exceed reasonable norms of international behaviour and who hated communism to the extent that he would use any and all forms of military threat to bring the Vietnam war to a close.   (Dumbrell, 2012 p. 108; Kimball, 1993 p. 155).

As part of the US strategy, it was argued that in order to resolve the conflict in Vietnam, the US might unleash irrational force against North Vietnam rather than utilise Soviet-Chinese diplomacy or “Vietnamisation” to resolve the conflict by forcing Hanoi to negotiate concessions (Dumbrell, 2012, p. 17, 108). The 1969 “secret” bombing of Cambodia, the Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, the mining of North Vietnamese ports and destruction of dike systems as well as the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons and occupation of North Vietnam were part of this escalation strategy. It was argued that Nixon and Kissinger used this escalation strategy to pressure not only North Vietnam but its allies, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union to move towards a peace settlement rather than risk Nixon escalating the conflict as a “madman” (LaFeber, 2008, p. 286; Dumbrell, 2012, p. 110-111).

In my opinion, the theory at its simplest level requires an actor to seek accommodation in the context of a crisis, making the other actor threaten disproportionate escalation that would result in the other side backing down as they would believe they were dealing with a “madman” and would not wish to call his/her bluff.

Could US President Donald Trump’s administration be utilising this theory of leadership against North Korea? Have we seen the coming of the Second “Madman”?

The Coming of the Second “Madman” In the Age of Digital Media

As a starting point lets make an assumption that there is a certain level of rationality within the functioning of the Trump Administration (that might appear difficult but run with it for a moment).

In my opinion, it would be fair to say, that Donald Trump’s Presidency has a reputation of unpredictability, apparent irrationality and an inclination to exceed reasonable and accepted norms of international behaviour (to put it one way) similar to that of Nixon. So, it would not be a stretch to imagine that the administration could utilise that reputation as a foreign policy tool. In the age of digital media and social media platforms like Twitter, it is far easier, I would argue, for the image of an unpredictable and irrational President to be spread across the world, applying pressure on multiple targets at once whilst carrying the weight of the President’s personal desires, particularly when that image is being communicated from the President’s own Twitter account.

Both before and after being elected President, Donald Trump widely utilised social media as a political tool both in terms of communicating domestic and foreign policy. Through the use of Twitter, Trump has made the Presidency far more personal than ever before, with Twitter becoming a “window not only into his thoughts and psyche, but into the kind of messages he wants to communicate” (Buncombe, 19th January 2018).

Trump joked about his “Nuclear button” being bigger, more powerful and more usable than that of North Korea’s Ki Jung-Un, having previously referred to the North Korean leader as a “little rocket man” and that the North Korean regime would not be “around much longer” (Gambino, 3rd January 2018: Allen, 24th September 2017). Such rhetoric I would argue has been used by Trump to communicate a message to the North Korean regime in terms not seen before: backdown because I’m prepared to go all the way.

In my opinion, such tweets in coordination with other speeches by Trump have been designed to demonstrate, in the context of the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear programme, that the President is unpredictable, irrational, inclined to exceed reasonable norms of international behaviour and happy to use any and all forms of military threat (in theory though with no practical examples on the ground) against North Korea. The options for the North Korean regime were simple: backdown and allow the situation to de-escalate or face the overwhelming power of the United States who is prepared to escalate the crisis, something which North Korea’s ally, the People’s Republic of China did not desire and would likely have advised the North Koreans against. Arguably North Korea chose the former and decided not to call Trump’s bluff quite possibly because they may have got the message (real or unreal) that there was no bluff.

So have we seen the resurrection of the “Madman” Theory of Leadership in US foreign policy? Maybe but the answer to that question really depends on whether you think Trump is a President pretending to be a “madman” or a “madman” pretending to be a President.


Allen, Julie, the Telegraph (24th September 2017), “Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer`” available at: [Accessed on the 19th January 2018]

Buncombe, Andrew, The Independent (18th January 2018) “Donald Trump one year on: How the Twitter President changed social media and the country’s top office” available at [Accessed on 19th January 2018)

deGrandpre, Andrew, The Washington Post (August 11th, 2017), “Guam Released Guidance to Prepare Residents for North Korean Nuclear Strike” available at: [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

Dumbrell, John (2012), Rethinking the Vietnam War (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke)

Gabino, Lauren, The Guardian (3rd January 2018), “Donald Trump boasts that his nuclear button is bigger than Kin Jong-uns” available at [Accessed on the 19th January 2018]

Jones, Caleb and Kelleher, Jennifer Sinco, The Independent (December 2nd 2017), “Hawaii sounds nuclear warning sirens for first time since 1980s” available at: [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

Kimball, Jeffery P., “Peace with Honor”, Richard Nixon and the Diplomacy of Threat and Symbolism”, in Anderson, David. (1993) ed. Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945-75 (University Press of Kansas: Lawerence) pp. 152-183

LaFeber, Walter, (2008), “A New Containment: The Rise and Fall of Détente” in America, Russia and the Cold War, 1945-2006, Tenth Edition (McGraw-Hill: New York), pp. 266-298.

McCurry, Justin, The Guardian (9th January 2018), “North Korea agrees to send athletes to Winter Olympics after talks with South” available at: [Accessed 9th January 2018]

The BBC, (9th January 2018), “North Korea to send team to Winter Olympic Games” available at: [Accessed on 9th January 2018]


America’s New National Defense Strategy – What does it mean?

‘The world…is awash in change…Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.’[1] On 19 January, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis confirmed that American strategic attention was shifting.

The attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 established terrorism as the supreme threat to the United States, a threat to the safety of its citizens and the very ideals for which their country stands for. The successes, failures and honesty of President Bush’s foreign policy aside, his doctrine established a clear vision of America’s role in the world. It would stand unilaterally in the pursuit of its defence and made no distinction between the terrorists and nations that harboured them.[2]

The waning presence of Islamic State makes Bush’s vision outdated. The threat of IS is now overshadowed by perhaps a more traditional antagonist; rogue or revisionist nation states seeking to disrupt the global order. Russia and China are the primary nations that now constitute the focus of American defense strategy and for good reason. China represents a significant economic threat to the U.S., particularly through its potential ambition to dethrone the U.S. dollar by pricing Oil in Yuan[3].  Russia’s military prowess has been demonstrated in Ukraine and its Middle East intervention has produced significant gains for the Syrian government. Both nations clearly represent a significant threat to America’s global leadership which explains the U.S. shift in Defense policy, illustrated by Secretary Mattis’s recent remarks.  In a sense, this strategy represents a return to the Cold War model, pitting global superpowers against each other in a deadlocked competition.

President Trump’s National Defense Strategy makes sense and is perhaps a more up-to-date version than previous approaches that fixated upon international terrorism.  But is it inward looking as much as it is outward looking? Trump’s administration has more military commanders in top positions than any since Eisenhower’s[4] and this could illustrate bureaucratic pressure to secure a policy favourable to the military’s budget. Moreover, 2018 mid-term elections are fast approaching and the alleged Russian hacking still overshadows Trump to a greater or lesser extent. Tough talk on Russia could effectively shrug off Republican critics such as Senator McCain and help hold much needed seats in Congress for Trump to secure more legislative achievements such as tax reform. Whatever the motives behind this shift in outlook, President Trump is establishing a foreign policy vision of his own, distinct from Bush and Obama; a vision that recognises the threat to American supremacy abroad and clearly seeks to address this. There will be two things to watch for over the coming months. One, how much of this strategy is implemented and in what form it materialises. Two, how Russia and China respond to America’s policy shift and whether this will affect the dynamic of other areas such as dealing with North Korea.

[1] ‘Remarks by Secretary Mattis on the National Defense Strategy’.  www. [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[2] Jones, S. ‘Understanding the Bush Doctrine’ [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[3] Jegarajah, S. ‘China has grand ambitions to dethrone the dollar. It may make a powerful move this year’. [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[4] Wallace, C. ‘Trump’s generals: President turns to military men for counsel, order’ [Accessed 25 January 2018]