Sunday, March 23, 2008

UK terror and counter-terror policy history

The United Kingdom is arguably the best state in the European Union (EU) and Europe for examining in the area of terrorism and counter-terrorism policies as it has been subjected to a long and diverse history of terror acts. Over the last thirty to forty years, Britain has suffered several hundred individual bombing attacks by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization who wanted to gain independence from the British Monarchy, unify Ireland (Northern Ireland and Eire), and were prepared to employ as much destructive force as possible to achieve these goals. While the IRA plagued the British Isles, mainly focusing on influential areas, such as the British Parliament, political conventions and financial and business districts in metropolises like London and Manchester, they were not alone in these acts, as a number of other radical groups, such as a pro-animal liberation and a clumsy organization who wanted to stop the spread of Turkish banking in the Western world. This trend has continued until as recently as 2005 with the London Underground and bus bombings and arguably during the summer of 2007, when vehicles filled with explosives and “dockyard shrapnel”[1], were foiled by Metro Police, while others were left in an embarrassing position after trying to detonate a car full of charges at Glasgow’s International Airport. This troubled history, among other things, has led to a hardened public who has learned to cope with adversity, but more important for the purposes of this paper, a government who has vowed to get tough on terrorism and a lengthy list of counter-terrorism legislation.

As a result of this, the government as well as private facets in the UK have implemented many measures to ensure security and reclaim a relatively-safe living environment. However, many of these measures have raised questions as to the level of democracy incorporated in British policy-making, as they have drastically infringed on the public’s civil rights and have violated many human rights codes. Therefore, the policies which the British government has enacted in relation to controlling the nation’s problems with terrorism have violated many democratic conventions, but are increasingly being justified by the results they are producing, such as putting up a strong resistance to terrorism and making multiple arrests of suspected persons.

Before delving too deeply into counter-terrorism policies, it is important to look into an aspect related to terrorism that many do not consider unless it directly affects them is the issue of insuring property which is destroyed by random acts of terror. This is one of many instances which will be discussed where policies in the UK have been remodeled in response to years of terrorist destruction, as both public and private insuring associations have had to adjust to the high levels of property damage caused mainly by IRA attacks. In 1992, after a peak in terror attacks throughout Britain, the UK insurance market leaders came to a consensus that damage to all property, (commercial, private and residential), would no longer be covered under their policies. This decision was made as it was becoming too costly for many insurance brokerage agencies, who were struggling to survive as a result of covering the collateral damage from these relentless attacks.

The British government, realizing the need to intervene in this situation, drew from resource surpluses and a range of other assets, and created a program which would reimburse any insurer who covered terrorism damage. Pool Re, which was the name given to the program, was considered to be a positive attempt at insuring public safety and livelihood, although at the time the article was written, it still had many problems to work out. While this program did have inherent complications, it does demonstrate the interest of the government in public safety and its commitment to the citizen’s standards of living. It is also a good example of how the British government has been forced to alter traditional norms in response to extraordinary circumstances which the nation has been placed in after being plagued by terrorist assaults.

In other countries around the world that have dealt with similar levels of terror activity, policies involving insurance have varied considerably. In South Africa in the mid-1970’s, the largest insurance companies agreed that they would no longer be able to provide terrorism insurance to their clients and informed the government of this decision. After negotiations, an agreement was reached that would produce a collaboration in coverage between the government and private insurers. In Spain, terrorism coverage has always been a public program, which is grouped into a category with natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and landslides. However, while continuing to be a sturdy system for reimbursing property owners for terrorist-related destruction, it does not cover business interruption which deeply affects many small-business owners. Finally, in Northern Ireland, the British Insurance Association declared that it would no longer cover any collateral damage resulting from terrorist acts, forcing the Irish government to create a compensation system that would reimburse proprietors of damaged businesses. In comparison to these examples of terrorist coverage, the British government appears to be at a comparable level of state intervention in regards to absorbing the costs of terror damage of its citizens.

While acts like Pool Re, where the government intervenes into the public and private lives of its citizens for their well-being are definitely involved, more commonly government intervention in relation to terrorism is observed as an intrusion into the public’s rights and freedoms. The remaining portion of this study will examine a few of these areas and attempt to determine the degree in which the British have negatively or positively intervened into the people’s lives.

The first issue is the treatment of minority groups who have connection to terrorist groups or activities and how government legislation and practices infringe on their civil liberties. Historically, being the time between the 1950’s and shortly after the turn of the century, Britain’s main adversary in terms of terrorism has been the IRA. This has led to overt level of discrimination and hostility towards the Irish, particularly those from the North, by the citizens and to some extent the British government. However, since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, the level of animosity has consistently started to dwindle between the two parties, as a number of political and social concessions were reached in the agreement, resulting in a reduction of IRA violence and British discrimination towards the Northern Irish. It is important to note that despite the new level of cooperation between the sides, the IRA leaders maintained their arms, which continued into the new millennium.

After the September 11 bombings, however, it became glaringly clear that the UK and most other Western nations, were now facing a new enemy; Islamist terror organizations. This new foe allowed for a different type of discrimination than was experienced by the Irish, as the predominantly-Arab membership in these organizations, like the infamous Al-Qeada, are visibly and culturally different than the white, Anglo-speaking Irish. This factor makes Muslims an easier target for discrimination by the public and the government legislation, as well as it allows for a social hatred to develop towards the conventions, beliefs and practices of that minority community. The problem which this treatment creates is that it in many cases, the distinction between being a British Muslim and being a terrorist are completely removed, which then leads to human rights and civil liberties abuses.

In the late 1990’s and early in the new millennium, the British government being led by Prime Minister Tony Blair enacted an immense amount of legislation regarding terrorism and the protection of human rights. In 1998 the Human Rights Act was adopted in Britain which outlined a number of areas in which the government or government agencies, such as police and intelligence forces like MI5[2], did not have the right to intervene into the public’s lives and limited the amount of force used to provide safety for civilians. This legislation also vowed the commitment and support of the European Court of Human Rights to prosecute all infractions to these conditions laid out in the document (Human Rights Act). However, two years later Blair introduced the Terrorism Act (2000) which outlined many issues, mainly dealing with the financing of terrorist organizations as well as new limitations in acquiring information on suspected terrorists and conducting surveillance on these individuals. The contents of this act were then enlarged by the follow-up acts The Money-Laundering Regulations (2000), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001) and the Proceeds of Crime Act of 2002, which laid out strict punishments for those convicted, and in some case those suspected, of profiting from or supplying terrorists with funds to continue their efforts. These terrorism bills were amended in 2005 and 2006, after the bombings across the UK reaffirmed the threat was not diminishing.

The result of this legislation, is the constitutional freedom of government to exercise its powers as officials deem fit, in order to provide security for the citizens of the nation, which also target minority groups, mainly British Muslims and restrict their freedoms in a number of ways. Such issues include no-fly lists for persons who are suspected to be of concern to public safety, which have led to numerous incidents of mistaken identity and subsequent law suits, as well as the freedom of mobility in and out of the UK. This has also affected the rate at which Muslims, among other high-suspect persons, are allowed to immigrate into the UK. However, from a human rights standpoint, one of the harshest aspects of this legislation for suspected terrorists, is the length of time a suspected criminal, or terrorist, is allowed to be detained by authorities before being given a trial or even knowing why they are being held.

In 2005 the Blair government proposed a motion which would legally extend the length of time a suspect can be held before trial from fourteen days to ninety days. This motion was soundly defeated by the opposition parties as well as members of Blair’s cabinet. While the ninety-day proposition was not accepted on the grounds that it was undemocratic, members of the House of Commons did extend the duration from fourteen to twenty-eight days, as well as enacting other amendments such as the introduction of control orders which allow the government to place curfews and house arrests on suspected terror criminals.

Finally, in early 2006, the British government passed a motion to expand the services and duties of MI5, by drastically increasing its personnel and budget to combat the operations of suspected terrorist cells throughout the United Kingdom. The agency has vowed an increase of twelve-hundred new officers which will bring the force to thirty-two hundred employees by 2008. The Security Service was also allotted an additional ₤135 million to increase its operations in counter-terrorism.

These acts create little doubt that the government is willing to cross the line of civil liberties and human rights in the name of counter-terrorism. It is difficult to justify acts which infringe so deeply on the public’s freedoms, but it appears as though there will always be a grey area surrounding this subject. The matter boils down to how far the public will allow these procedures to take place before it becomes unbearable on their moral consciences.

In relation to the European Union’s counter-terrorism policies, it is difficult to determine where the United Kingdom’s policies stand on a scale of state intervention. In late 2005, the EU’s Council of Ministers and Home Affairs and Justice Council put forth the most recent legislative offering entitled the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which began as response to the 2005 London bombings. In general terms, the two sets of legislation are difficult to compare, as the structures and societies that the EU and UK documents represent are noticeably different. However, two aspects are apparent in comparing the two, both having to do with the wording. First, the EU legislation is quite brief in terms of counter-terrorism and is written rather ambiguously, whereas the UK’s offerings are very concise about who the enemy is and what measures they will enact to thwart their threat. The EU legislation merely lays the framework but is brief in its delegating of responsibilities. This vagueness allows critics to interpret the legislation as having loopholes, which the European government will be able to fill in later as threats arise.

The second aspect also has to do with the wording, but more specifically the topic of terrorism. As Munar points out, the European Union’s legislation identifies the greatest threat to EU citizens is homegrown terrorism, whereas the United Kingdom’s legislation acknowledges this factor, but does not limit itself to any one type of terrorism or terrorist group and cites any factors that threaten security as a concern. This is likely resulting from the British historical references in battling “foreign” rebel movements such as the Irish Republican Army, as well as the new breed of British Islamist terrorism.

In regards to civil liberties and human rights infringements, the United Kingdom’s legislation has historically produced more claims and concerns, than the European Union, however, in certain aspects, the EU has surpassed Britain, the most prominent being the practice of carrying identification cards. This has been a mainstay in European society since the inauguration of the single-market, which allowed citizens the freedom to work across all EU borders. However, in the modern climate of international terror threats, these cards have been used by governments for surveillance and tracking purposes, which tramples on the EU’s reputation for being a loosely interventionist state. This system has been rejected in the UK, however, but with the threat of terrorism continuing to mount, the debate has never completely gone away and is being argued over at present time. When comparing the counter-terror and other social security policies, it is difficult to determine who is the most interventionist. However, the final portion of this study will demonstrate that the United Kingdom has chosen other methods to monitor their society for the purposes of security and are no less interventionist than the European Union.

Arguably the greatest evolution and change which has resulted from terror prevention and related legislation in the United Kingdom is the high level of civilian and suspected criminal surveillance that constantly monitors the entire state. The idea of “Big Brother” carefully observing the citizen’s every move to rid the nation of militant behaviour and unlawful deeds has become an accepted facet of life in the contemporary British Isles, however, the roots of this belief have been embedded in the society’s customs for the better part of two centuries.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, many throughout Britain were unsatisfied with the state of the nation’s penal system, which was commonly referred to as the “Bloody Code,” as it arbitrarily arrested, convicted and brutally punished thousands of offenders, for crimes ranging from minor property damage to more heinous acts like rape or murder. Often the result of these trials would be public execution by hanging and in the best-case scenario, a vicious flogging. This caused a number of reformers to introduce new types of punishments which were designed to deviate from punishing the body, to punishing the mind. Leading this charge was a brilliant young prodigy named Jeremy Bentham.

Bentham made it his mission to reform the way that criminal justice was punished in Britain, and developed an early model of monitoring inmates, which is known as the Panopticon method. This method is designed so that the least amount of guards can monitor the most amount of inmates as possible, doing this by the positioning of a centralized station and having the barracks of prison cells strategically stem outwards from this point. The idea behind this is that after a period of time, the prisoners will no longer have the urge to misbehave as they feel that they are always being watched by the authoritarian powers. The deterrent factor in this system is important as it intends to sculpt the prisoner’s mind so that they will have this same feeling of repression once they leave the prison, hence the term, reformation.

Michael Faucault expands on this notion in the chapter entitled the Carceral, which takes the panopticon to the next level, as it incorporates all aspects of society, from children’s education to hospital systems, into this omnipresent regulating and monitoring force. These examples display that the belief in surveillance acting as a deterrent for those with unsavoury thoughts have existed in Britain for over one-hundred and fifty years and are just reaching fruition at present times.

At current date, there are approximately 4.2 million closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras monitoring Great Britain everyday, brandishing a ratio of nearly one per every fifteen people. In fact, it is estimated that the average person is viewed roughly three-hundred times a day, while carrying out regular business in even medium-sized cities. Many of these cameras not only survey the designated area, but have been technologically enhanced, coming equipped with intercoms, where the monitor can verbally reprimand violators in situations where physical police presence is not necessary.

This frantic surge in surveillance capabilities in Britain have been adopted as recently as 1999, when the government spent over $200 million to maintain security in a time of uncertainty, following decades of violent acts by the IRA. This history, mixed with the militant group’s refusal to disarm following the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement between Northern Ireland and the British government, led to the vast expansion in monitoring for the purpose of security. Of course, these implementations came a few years before the September 11 bombings in New York and a number of years before the Madrid and London bombings, which took place later in the decade, which many have attributed to the start of anti-terror precautions and surveillance systems being implemented across the world.

The topic of constant surveillance across the UK has raised a number of debates in the public realm as to whether the amount of civilian surveillance in Britain has created an authoritarian police-state regime in a nation who for years has been accredited with being one of the world’s democratic watchdogs. When discussing this issue, it is necessary to point out that monitoring civilians in their everyday activities does infringe on the democratic freedoms which the British government has constitutionally abided by, in some cases, since the drafting of the first Magna Carta in 1215. However, it is equally necessary to emphasize that these measures do have positive effects for the security of the state, if not in a deterring role, than definitely by apprehending or identifying suspects, both in the act or afterwards. Good examples of this were mentioned in the case study introduction, where police were able to identify a number of parties involved in the 2005 London transportation bombings, as well as saving countless lives and injuries by diffusing a plot to detonate a strategically placed auto-bomb in July 2007. Examples like this continue to legitimize the civilian surveillance practices employed by the British government, both in the eye of the policy-maker and a good portion of the citizens, who wish to live in a secure, non-violent environment.

[1] Dockyard shrapnel is the name given to a technique which has become very popular with modern Islamist terror organizations, where an automobile is filled with explosive material, as well as common hardware, such as nails, screws and even objects like children’s marbles. These vehicles are usually parked in high traffic areas, such as entertainment or financial districts, and are detonated, which propels the pieces of metal flying out of the car, wounding, maiming or killing innocent bystanders in a close radius. In July 2007, one of these cars was removed from a London nightclub area, due to the car violating parking regulations and the observation of a CCTV operator.

[2] MI5 is the national wing of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and is responsible for handling all aspects of Home security. The SIS was created during World War I to coordinate between British military factions. The international wing of the SIS is known as MI6. (Security Service MI5 website).

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Canada stands strong into the 20th Century

As the first decade of the new millennium draws to a close, many experts and critics have struggled to determine just where exactly Canada as a nation stands in the global arena. Current Macleans national editor Andrew Cohen has provided us with a pessimistic and skeptical view of the country’s loss of stature in his book “While Canada slept” which some would argue is a wake-up call to the people in authority in our beloved nation. On a somewhat more inspirational note, authors including Canadian-born academic Jennifer Welsh have ascertained that Canada has done a fair job of climbing from the middle-power status which has surrounded it’s name, dating back to the post-World War II era, but purports that we still have a ways to go to reach our full potential.

While both of these perspectives hold considerable merit and possess obvious accuracy, many of Canada’s actions, on both international and national fronts, have displayed strength, commitment and determination as a major contributor to the global agenda. While still being a-ways-away from perfection, Canada has made a number of crucial policy decisions which have emphasized its collective might.

The first of which was by displaying its commitment to the George W. Bush and Tony Blair sponsored “War on Terror” and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Although Canada initially withheld its contribution, Prime Minister Jean Chretien working on the advice and sentiments of his advisors and the national electorate fulfilled his obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) mission by providing troops and support for their Western comrades, as well the Afghani people who had been suppressed by the tyrannical Taliban regime.

While in the Middle East theatre, Canada has demonstrated its finely-tuned military might, despite being a department which has been plagued by a tradition of budget cuts dating well back into the Trudeau era. Canadian troops have taken part in many logistical and tactical operations and have held their ground in the southern Helmand province, which throughout the war has been one of the toughest and most dangerous areas, providing consistent safety and security to fellow soldiers and civilians. Toughness aside, the precision and technical skills of the elite Canadian troops have also been displayed as a Canadian soldier recorded the longest kill with a rifle in military history; from over two kilometeres. These demonstrations of the Canadian military have helped chisel our nation as being a relatively- small but definite power in the current world.

Another policy decision which has proven to be just as critical as the Afghanistan mission was the decision to stay out of the American-backed witch-hunt for weapons of mass destruction and regime change throughout Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This strategic move by the Chretien- Paul Martin camp has proven to be beneficial to Canada in numerous ways, the first of which being the absence of terrorist backlash in our country such as has been experienced in America (though mostly attempted), the Australian region and Great Britain. While the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have foiled minor attempts to conduct terror by Islamist extremist groups with ties to the Mid-East, Canada for the most part has gone unscathed in comparison to Britain, for example, who has been repeatedly targeted by such groups, reeking havoc on, and underneath their streets and creating an massive civilian death toll. Naturally, it is unfair to suggest that Britain’s role in the occupation of Iraq is the only cause for this aggression, though it definitely plays into a pattern which is difficult to ignore.

In the global picture, arguably the greatest benefit reaped by Canada’s abstention in the Iraqi conflict is the message it sent to its closest neighbour and economic trading partner, as well as its former colonizer, that this is a mature and sovereign nation which can make decisions for itself, and for its people. Canada’s decision, which was based strongly on the voice of its electorate as well as a realistic evaluation of our military and resource situation, was extremely crucial in defining ourselves as an independent entity, free of persuasion, and even coercion, from our economic and defense cohort, a stigma which has been trailing the country for the majority of the last century.

Finally, turning to a more domestic issue which has major transnational implications, is the recent interest that Canada, and a few selected other nations, has had in the Arctic territories. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been steadfast in his position that the northern areas in question belong to Canada and is a non-negotiable issue with the United States, Denmark and Russia. Harper’s unwavering stance on Canada’s entitlement of the mostly uninhabitable and overly undesirable tundra yet again displays the nation’s commitment to continually reaffirm our sovereignty and stand in the world as a mid-to-large power, who will no longer be pressured or commandeered into policy decisions which hold little, or even negative, benefits for the nation.

While these policy decisions have assisted in ascending Canada into the upper-echelon of credible and powerful global players, there are a few areas and directions which Canada must pursue in order to maintain its position. The first of which, is it must get in line with the Kyoto Protocol and develop viable and attainable solutions to control our greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution as a whole. Canada, being one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the world, is now faced with the daunting task of meeting the 25 to 40 per cent reduction which was set out at the recent United Nations conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia. However, if the current and future governments are able to wrangle these figures and do our part in fighting global climate change, Canadian credibility will rise even further, increasing our credibility as a nation who is committed to overall good in the international eye.

Another area where improvement is definitely welcomed and some would argue necessary, is the expansion of our intelligence service. At present, the major name in Canadian security outside of our defense capacities is the aforementioned CSIS, whose mandate and resources are drastically limited for the size of nation it serves. In order to quell future acts of terrorist or other aggression within and outside of our borders, a dual structure, one national, one international, is needed. Many of the leading Western nations operate systems of similar nature: the US with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as a slew of other military Intel agencies, and Britain with MI:5 and MI:6 respectively, who are assisted by other national policing branches such as Scotland Yard. With these institutions as an example, it is time for Canada to reevaluate the current system of CSIS handling national intelligence and exercising minor efforts abroad, to a system where CSIS is exported and revert to the days when the RCMP would handle all domestic espionage and surveillance operations. While not an immediate necessity, a dual system such as this would increase Canadian efforts to provide security at home, and protect the freedoms and liberties which pillar Western democracy abroad.

For the last eight years, Canadian policy makers and leaders have made a number of critical decisions regarding the sovereignty and power of our beloved nation, which have increased the international respect and prowess of the nation. These key choices, along with many others, have helped shape Canada into a serious economic, political and military contender in the current global landscape. If those with the vested power continue to make similar, forward-moving decisions, the 21st century, to echo former P.M. Wilfrid Laurier’s words, will also belong to Canada.