If You Ask Me April 2016

Terror and the threat of it

Events in Europe and Asia

The dust had barely settled after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, in March when the debate began. Politicians and concerned citizens pointed the finger at Europe’s growing migrant crisis, claiming that groups such as Islamic State—which claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Brussels Airport and a downtown metro station—are infiltrating radicalised recruits into an ill-prepared Europe.

The bombings, which killed more than 30 people and left several hundred injured, prompted new questions about European solidarity and security.

Across the Continent, political parties such as the right-wing Alternative for Germany equate the migrant problem with terrorism. In the UK, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, was quoted as saying that “we’ve reached a point where we have to admit to ourselves … that mass immigration and multicultural division has for now been a failure”.

EU membership referendum

The latest atrocities will also add fuel to the “Brexit” (Britain leaving the European Union) campaign in the run up to the referendum, on 23 June, on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior government figures have argued that Britain is safer in the EU because of measures such as the European Arrest Warrant, which is valid in all member states. But others, most notably Sir Richard Dearlove KCMG OBE, former head of M16—the Secret Intelligence Service—claim that Britain would be safer outside it. According to Dearlove, a Brexit would make it easier to deport terrorists and control British borders.

International cooperation

Meanwhile, as more information emerges regarding those deemed responsible for the Brussels bombings, Belgian authorities have admitted that they failed to act on a tip from Turkey on a man who turned out to be one of the suicide bombers.

The man, who was arrested in Turkey last year on suspicion of terrorist activity, was a convicted Belgian national, and his brother—also a suicide bomber—was on the wanted list in connection with last year’s multiple attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and scores wounded.

This is the first high-level acknowledgement that the authorities could have done more to avert the bombings. It comes amid recriminations in the EU about failures among various police forces and intelligence services to share information. It is only in the aftermath of Brussels that we begin to see the extent of the true connection between this atrocity and those in Paris and elsewhere globally.

Sabre ratting on the peninsula

In March, North Korea launched a series of missiles in clear violation of United Nations (UN) resolutions banning the nation from all ballistic missile activity. In recent months the country’s leader Kim Jong-un has intensified nuclear activities, conducting a fourth nuclear test in January and launching a long-range rocket in February, prior to the missile launches.

South Korea has said that it is fully prepared for Pyongyang to carry out a fifth nuclear test. This is despite the recent UN Security Council Resolution and the toughest sanctions ever imposed on North Korea, in addition to unilateral sanctions by a number of nations.

Utilising US ties

Meanwhile, South Korea is heavily involved in military exercises with the US. The annual eight-week series of joint exercises are a thorn in the side of the North Korean regime, which has ironically lodged its own protest with the UN, calling the exercises “a grave threat” to the country.

This year’s exercises involve the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and a strike group of almost 8,500 pilots and sailors, three destroyers, a tanker and dozens of fighter jets, reconnaissance planes and helicopters.

All of this is designed to be a deterrent, but even war games of this scale, sanctions and international isolation appear not to have convinced Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. And the regime is keeping up its propaganda efforts, too. A video recently posted online purports to show government buildings in Seoul being struck by missiles from the north, and ends with the warning that “everything will turn to ashes”.

As the Korea Joongang Daily has stated, Seoul “must not make light of the North’s nuclear threats, nor should we be shaken by is bellicose threats. The government must prepare for a worst-case scenario and make the North realise there is no way out of its self-imposed trap, except abandoning weapons of mass destruction”.