About Charlie Edwards

Charlie Edwards is Director of National Security and Resilience Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Prior to RUSI he was a Research Leader at the RAND Corporation focusing on Defence and Security where he conducted research and analysis on a broad range of subject areas including: the evaluation and implementation of counter-violent extremism programmes in Europe and Africa, UK cyber strategy, European emergency management, and the role of the internet in the process of radicalisation. He has undertaken fieldwork in Iraq, Somalia, and the wider Horn of Africa region.

Generation Change

Over on his Middle East Blog , Marc Lynch asks whether the Iraq war will change how scholars study the Middle East. It’s a question he has been pondering for sometime since taking over as director of the Middle East Studies program at the Elliott School of International Affairs:

Graduate programs in political science and Middle East Studies have already begun to see a steady flow of applicants back from Iraq (including, among many others, my research assistant from last year). I expect that over the next decade, this will turn into a flood as smart, young veterans look to put their experiences into a broader perspective and to apply their hard-won granular knowledge to broader academic and policy problems.  (And not only military veterans — there are plenty of civilians, contractors, and NGO workers who have worked in Iraq as well.) Most will pursue MA degrees, while some percentage will decide to continue on to a PhD I think this an unequivocally good thing — and I wonder if people have given serious thought to how it might change the field of Middle East studies.

It’s a fascinating question and one that we in London should be thinking about –  identifying the young up-and-coming MA/PhD students and helping them find their way into think tanks, NGOs and government service.

It reminds me of a story I have been told by numerous military folk about a  young lance corporal on his Junior Command Course in Brecon. The story goes that a senior NCO was giving a lecture on counterinsurgency and spent much of his time describing the campaigns in Malaya, Oman and Northern Ireland. During the Q&A session the young lance corporal put his hand up and asked the senior NCO a question about Afghanistan and Iraq. The senior NCO couldn’t answer the question – his only experience, he said, was  in Northern Ireland, so he asked the assembled group who had had experience in Afghanistan and Iraq – almost everyone raised their hands… soon the senior NCO was listening to tactics learnt in the fields of Helmand and from the streets of Basra.

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Britain’s place in the world? Drifting… obviously

Yesterday William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, gave a speech in London setting out what British foreign policy might look like under a Conservative government. Judging by the crowd at IISS , the pre-briefing before the speech, and bearing in mind the drought of Tory ideas on national security to date, this was an important moment for the Conservative Party – this was a blueprint.

So you might have expected the speech to ruffle a few feathers, go further than David Cameron’s Liberal conservatism speech in Islamabad, even set out a new vision or concept that might spark further debate and yet… it wasn’t to be. The speech provoked no more than a whimper from the papers: The FT highlighted the opposition plans to downgrade EU ties , The Guardian asked whether the Tories have a real foreign policy? Reuters felt the Conservatives were arguing for a less interventionist Britain while The Daily Telegraph led with news that the Conservatives wouldn’t shrink from tough defence decisions. Finally, the Chief Foreign Commentator of The Times felt the speech ‘strikes a realistic tone on Britain’s place in the world ‘ and awarded the shadow foreign secretary 6/10 and a silver star.

Using Global Dashboard’s in-house foreign policy speech check-list everything was here:
Call for a National Security Council Check
Quote David Kilcullen Check
Describe the world as uncertain Check
Reference state failure, terrorism, changing nature of conflict (in that order) Check
Describe effects of climate change on failing states Check
Argue that the EU should be enlarged to include the Balkans and Turkey but leave out how the UK would influence a larger European Union Check
Call for reform of international institutions Check

In his conclusion William Hague said:

My argument today has been that it will become more difficult over time for Britain to exert on world affairs the influence which we are used to… to do so will be to act not only in our national interest but in the enlightened national interest…  for we have a responsibility to others as well as ourselves. Britain will not disengage from trying to shape global events. In trying to create and maintain a more peaceful world we will always be at the forefront. But we will so position and prepare ourselves that if the skies darken and new storms arise we will be ready for them.

Tony Blair said something similar when he was PM, Gordon Brown too. Paddy Ashdown and George Robertson argued along similar lines recently. In other words, British foreign policy looks like it will head on precisely the same course as the previous decade, which for internationalists and interventionists is no bad thing.

Yet the issue at the heart of Hague’s speech was the lack of drive or ambition – the idea, implicit in his speech, that nations can only ever respond to events – never instigate change.

Finally there was one curious passage that stood out and which I think was the most interesting part of the Shadow Foreign Secretary speech. Tucked away was the following:

The citizens of Britain have always been restless in trying to improve the wider world and global in our outlook.

That is a pretty bold statement. But I wonder how true it is, especially when polling indicates the public appetite for adventures overseas isn’t that strong and there are signs that the downturn is beginning to undermine previously strong public support for aid. It also contrasts with something that Tony Blair argued three years ago, when he argued that:

The British people are reluctant global citizens. We must make them confident ones.

Which is it – are we Brits restless in trying to improve the wider world or reluctant global citizens? Was it that the British public had had enough of Blair’s role on the international stage or that Blair wanted the UK to become a truly global hub – for business – innovation –  influence on the world stage but never succeeded.  Judging by this speech today William Hague has decided that Britain’s best approach is to drift – after all it will be in our national interest…

Posted in UK