Sunday, 26 October 2014
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King 'Abdallah II of Jordan said recently that there was a civil war in Islam going on. He was only half right. It is not just a civil war within Islam, but across Arab society as a whole. This is not the Arab Spring turning to Winter, but something far more fundamental that the Arab Spring was simply one expression of - the fight for the very soul of the Arab world.

So while the F-15s, the Typhoons and the Mirages pour bombs on to the tyrants of ISIS, masquerading under their black flag, Western governments should stay sensitive to the fact that we are in fact fighting in conflicts far older than our technology and governments. In the heart of the Levant the ancient clash between Sunni and Shi'a is being played out in increasingly eschatological tones, but it is now enmeshed with wider, more modern conflicts; between rich and poor, moderate and conservative, urban and rural and, ultimately, over the final role of Islam in the modern Middle East society.

The outgoing Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Sir Richard Shirreff, addressed the U K Defence Forum on this topic last night. Although it was under the Chatham House Rule, so of his views have been previously published. They are reproduced on the next page. Nick watts, Deputy Director General, will be interviewing General Richard for Volume II of our Strategic Reflections series.

There is an appreciable risk of war between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, into which the US would be drawn, according to a new publication from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Conflict is genuinely possible, despite the potential costs to both nations far outweighing the economicvalue of the disputed territory.

NATO's Ebola 'capability gap': where are the hospital ships? asksĀ Dr Ian Davis, Director, NATO Watch

A UK Royal Navy ship with a 100-bed medical facility, helicopters, landing craft, emergency supplies and around 400 personnel is heading for Sierra Leone to help tackle the Ebola crisis.

The 28,000-tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Argus, will act as a forward base for army medics, engineers, soldiers and aid experts who will build and operate medical centres, train local doctors and nurses and transport vital supplies. About 80 medical staff will be on board, including surgeons, consultants, radiographers, anaesthetists and nurses. Some will be deployed onshore to help with the training; others will remain on RFA Argus.

While the ship will provide medical cover to British military and civilian personnel for injuries or illness while working in Sierra Leone, it will not treat anyone who contracts Ebola. Any suspected UK victims of Ebola will be evacuated to a British-run facility onshore. The aim is to keep the ship a safe, sterile environment from which the UK's efforts can be coordinated locally.

Previously I have discussed the suggestion that Ebola positive patients be transferred from West Africa to suitable isolation hospitals in well-resourced countries for treatment. The article also explored whether NATO might have a role in such an initiative. The idea of setting up emergency systems in NATO member states does appear to have merit and deserves wider debate.


RAF Tornados took part in their first armed mission over Iraq on Saturday 27th September 2014, a day after MPs voted to back British participation in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Whilst the media focused on the rights and wrongs of military action in Iraq, little attention was paid to the fact that the decision was made by MPs rather the Prime Minister. Overlooked it may well have been but the vote cemented a constitutional development that it is now Parliament's call, not the executive's, to sanction the use of force. Whilst this new Parliamentary convention has been hailed as a landmark step in the reassertion of Parliament in international affairs, foreign policy by committee could paralyse decision-making and herald a radically diminished role for Britain on the international stage, writes Darren Griffiths.

Neil Thompson is convinced that the West should not involve itself in those states where political Islam is a major force. As he sees it, religious groups should be left to expose their own shortcomings, which should then help revive the local spread of democracy in the Middle East.

When many Westerners think of the Middle East today they tend to see a region gripped by religious and sectarian violence. Within Sunni Islam there is a struggle over religious authenticity, while secular governments in places like Egypt, Algeria and Syria face armed opposition to their rule by Islamist extremists. Meanwhile, much of the violence in long-running civil wars has taken on a sectarian nature, both between different strands of Islam and against religious minorities. Sometimes this has been encouraged as a deliberate divide-and-rule strategy by embattled regimes and, as in the case of Syria, the categories often overlap. What all the conflicts are perceived to have in common is the participation of inflexible and fanatical groups of fighters dogmatically opposed to the further modernization and Westernization of their home countries.

Marking the passing of previous generations who have served this country. Contributions from comrades and families welcomed.

'71 is a compulsive thriller movie set in Belfast as the city tips from civil unrest into the all-out horror of The Troubles. In the confusion of a riot, Hook, a young British squaddie (Jack O'Connell), is cut off from his unit, beaten, and barely escapes an execution. Disoriented and traumatised, Hook, barely out of boyhood, is caught between local warlords, psychotic gangsters, and the deadly agendas of his own side's undercover operators. "One of the most extraordinary films I've seen this year, a knuckle-mashing, head-smashing, Tommy-bashing tour de force" (Camilla Long, The Sunday Times).

Hook battles to stay alive on these treacherous city streets, but every safe haven he finds collapses in the rot of terror, mistrust and the ruthless momentum of civil war. If we struggle with the complexities of the sectarian politics and uneasy alliances, our bewilderment is identical with that of O'Connell's raw, untested Hook. As in all guerrilla wars, the enemy is hidden among the people, because the enemy is the people. Families live in ignorance of what is happening to their own. This is beautifully illustrated in this film, when a teenage assassin arrives home with the blood of a young soldier still wet on his clothes, to his mother's cheery enquiry, How was college ? Elayne Jude reviews the film.

As the Westminster world returns to begin another parliamentary session after the party conference (and by-election) season, and edges towards the stautory General Election in May 2015, so the policy world is stepping up its debate ahead of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which will follow. Examining 'Global trends and their implications for British security' the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has got the think tank world off to a good start - one which the U K Defence Forum will be following up in briefings and papers in the months to come. Our DDG Nick Watts was there.

A menu of perils was addressed last week, ranging from Great Power conflict, the changing ideological landscape and organised crime. Additional elements such as the impact of Information and Technology as well as resource competition and the impact of urbanisation were examined. Given current events it was also very timely to examine the impact of pandemics.

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