How Russian Foreign Policy Affects Political Stability in the Post-Soviet Space

To what extent is Russian foreign policy a source of political stability in the wider post-Soviet region?

It has been over 30 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however the ‘post-Soviet space’ remains a useful descriptor for a region in which many countries remain, for better or worse, interlinked. This space is bifurcated into two primary but not static blocs. One is made up of post-Soviet states that have clearly signalled a separation from Moscow, both socially and politically. These include the Baltic States which, since independence, have joined both the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) despite Russian opposition. Georgia and Ukraine, both of which have experienced instability caused or exacerbated by Russia, also look westwards for security, stability, and economic growth. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy stated that “[Ukraine is] more ready than most countries in the EU [to join NATO]”, although support from within NATO remains lukewarm at best (Weichert and Filtenborg, 2021, online). Additionally, Georgia is an aspirant NATO member and a comparatively large contributor to joint operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (NATO, 2014, online). On the other side, there is a bloc of post-Soviet states that continue to have strong ties to Moscow through collective economic and security organisations like the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In the other post-Soviet Caucasian states, relations are usually close but always characterised by a huge power imbalance. CSTO member Armenia and former member Azerbaijan recognise that the region is in Russia’s sphere of influence, but they cannot both look to Russia to solve their almost irreconcilable ethno-territorial conflict. As such, an increasingly wealthy Azerbaijan looks south towards its Turkic counterparts and further abroad for solutions whilst Armenia remains almost entirely dependent on Russia for economic and military support.

Illiberal and autocratic states are not necessarily politically unstable. Political stability could be defined as “the regularity of the flow of political exchanges”, in which regular exchanges do not violate societal norms and laws, and irregular exchanges do (Ake, 1975, p.271). Essentially, politically stable nations abide by constitutional, institutional, and political norms and experience predictably stable political life and exchanges, however often. Sweden is a stable liberal democracy whose populace respects the democratic process. As such, handovers of power are almost certain to occur without incident. Oman, although neither liberal nor a democracy, is also relatively politically stable, having been ruled by the Al-Busaidi dynasty since the mid-18th century with minimal disruption upon each succession. The post-Soviet space includes both liberal democracies and autocratic dictatorships, as well as states across the spectrum of stability (Global Economy, 2021, online). As Russian influence, and thus its potential to affect stability or instability, is lesser amongst the institutionally strong Baltic states (despite their sizable Russian minorities), this paper will instead focus on Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This paper argues that Russian foreign policy in the wider post-Soviet space is a largely destabilising influence that contributes to the deterioration of political stability in most, but not all of its neighbours. 

Russia is no longer the premiere power in Eurasia, and is now sandwiched between the growing might of China and the economic superpower of the EU. The EU and EAEU compete over integration projects such as Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs) with states such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Azerbaijan (Fischer et al, 2012, p.65). Despite some de facto annexations, it is unlikely that Russia seeks to rebuild its physical empire. Instead, it is more palatable to contemporary international sensibilities to rule via indirect control with socio-economic soft power used more often than hard power (Lo, 2014, p.102). This is easier in theory than in practice, especially as Chinese influence grows through its belt and road initiatives whilst sanctions and tumbling oil prices take their toll on the Russian economy. When soft power fails, Russia has shown it is willing to use force to maintain its sphere of influence in Europe and the Caucasus. This use of hard power has significantly increased political instability in its European post-Soviet neighbours, and any move to use it as a stepping stone towards creating a zone of Russian-dominated stability has never been further away.   

Belarus, often referred to as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, has sustained a level of political stability since the collapse of the USSR under the authoritarian rule of Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus, or ‘white Russia’, is logically a natural ally for Russia, and by most accounts it is. Its strategic location on the eastern edge of the North European Plain- the historical invasion route from Europe- indicates a measure of its importance to Moscow. As such, Russia ought to benefit from a politically stable state inhabiting this region that remains largely reliant on its heavily subsidised oil (Whitemore, 2021, online). This is mostly the case, with the added benefit that bereft of a functioning democracy the country is unlikely to change political tact and look westwards without a lengthy period of indicators and warnings (as long as Lukashenko remains on side). Belarus mostly fulfills what Moscow views as its obligations, although despite their closeness the relationship has not been without incident. Even prior to the ongoing political instability caused by Lukashenko’s persistent electoral fraud, Russian foreign policy never aimed to cement stability in its neighbouring nation. Although Russia would gain little from a union with Belarus, it seeks high levels of control over Minsk and works to prevent Belarusian autonomy or liaisons with the west. In an act of checkbook diplomacy, Vladimir Putin offered a $500M loan in return for Belarus’ recognition of the Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be delivered in Russian, not Belarusian, rubles (Silitski, 2009, online). This would only further cement Belarusian economic dependence on Russia. Moreover, the refined petroleum products that Belarus exports- a cornerstone of its economy- previously were shipped via Latvian and Lithuanian ports to gain a measure of economic independence (Whitmore, 2021, online). As the pro-democracy demonstrations intensified, a concerned Lukashenko finally gave in to Russian demands to export via Russian Baltic ports hammering another nail in the coffin to the prospect of a semi-independent Belarusian economy. There is no love lost between the Lukashenko and Putin administrations, however Russia has continually risked the possibility and eventual fruition of political instability by propping up the strict autocratic regime. It does this as it believes as long as Lukashenko is in power the country will remain in Russia’s domain and outside of the reach of the West (Lo, 2014, p.116).

Ukraine is another European post-Soviet state that many in Russia regard as an integral part of the Russian homeland rather than an independent nation with its own identity. Prior to 2015 Russia exerted significant influence in Ukraine- a largely politically stable if economically precarious power at the time- through the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych and by its status as Ukraine’s foremost trade partner (Kuzio, 2010, p.9). But the prospects of the aftermath of the Euromaidan revolution and accompanying reduction in control galvanised Russia which embarked on an information operations campaign to show persecuted and attacked ethnic Russians in Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea (Kolstø, 2016, p.702) as a pretext for intervention. Russian involvement in Ukraine during a time of political instability has only served to exacerbate the crisis. The takeover of Crimea, of extreme importance to Russia due to its warm water port at Sevastopol, was bloodless, but was in direct violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (Vasykenko, 2009, online). This violation and the implications towards Belarus and Kazakhstan only serve to heighten regional instability. Moreover, even despite Crimea’s bloodless pacification, enduring instability is almost certain as a water crisis looms after Kyiv dammed the North Crimean Canal and Moscow failed to prepare an alternative solution (Marques, 2021, online). Ukraine remains Russia’s third largest trading partner and a client of state-owned Gazprom, however the ongoing Russian-backed insurgency in the east serves to only destabilise the state (Lo, 2014, p.107). Whilst the Kremlin’s original intentions for the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics are unclear, as is the extent of its support to the original uprising, the continued Russian backing of the insurgents only prolongs a conflict which is scarcely dampened by official ceasefires. The ongoing warfare and continuous stream of casualties emboldens extremist elements of Ukrainian politics, further destabilising the region (Kolstø, 2016, p.712). Putin’s foreign policy in Ukraine has cornered Russia- to leave or assist Ukraine would betray Russian nationalists and give ground to an increasingly pro-western state on its border. Continuing to assist the insurgents costs resources and human life for little gain, but does stretch Russian control slightly further west and provides a small buffer zone and semi-deniable proxy force. Putin is unlikely to lose face and compromise with Ukraine to solve it, thereby risking extended regional instability for leverage and control over a newly pro-Western Ukrainian state.

Belarus has in the past flirted with stronger EU relations and Ukraine fervently aspires to NATO and EU memberships, but both have the benefit of sharing a land border with several EU and NATO states. The Caucasus, isolated from the rest of Europe by the Black Sea, southern Russia, and Anatolia can rely on no such geographic proximity. It is a region of small states, with only Azerbaijan just exceeding 10 million people, but many ethnic groups. Many of the conflicts present today stem from the Sovietisation of Transcaucasia and reemerged towards the waning days of the Soviet Union. Despite its small size, Georgia struggled to maintain its territorial integrity due to armed opposition from Abkhaz and Ossetian communities in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. A UN observer mission mostly kept the peace between Georgia and Abkhazia but after 16 years was ended in 1999 by Russia using its UN Security Council (UNSC) veto despite no other supporting votes (Harvey, 2009, p.43). This blow to political stability in the region was later compounded by the Russo-Georgian War in 2008 which saw the creation of two new supposedly sovereign entities that even Moscow’s allies largely refused to recognise (Lo, 2014, p.117). It is clear that for the last two decades Tbilisi has aimed to distance itself from Russia, however it remains in Russia’s sphere of interest. With the Baltic states in NATO, losing influence to the West in Ukraine, and Chinese encroachment in Central Asia, Moscow is likely loath to cede influence to external parties in its Caucasian underbelly. Since there is little the Kremlin could do to gain control over Georgia diplomatically with the current enmity, and even before the war was inevitably losing influence to the larger economies in the west, it is now against its interest to allow political stability in the region. A strong, unified Georgia would only be a staging point for Western influence in the Caucasus (Lo, 2014, p.119). Moscow values limited regional control via proxies and leverage rather than political stability in Tbilisi.

Georgia borders both the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia, both of which have been locked in a conflict over the predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian soft power and influence goes further in both Armenia and Azerbaijan than Georgia. Armenia suffers from its small and declining population, modest economy, and landlocked geography, whereas Baku benefits from a Caspian coastline, booming population, and an economy fueled by vast oil reserves and pipelines (Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, 2016, online). Both, however, recognise Russian hegemony over the region and enjoy close relations to Moscow despite their own rivalry. The frozen Soviet conflict is a source of political instability in both states, however there is little incentive for Russia to work for a permanent solution. Armenia is a member of the EAEU and CSTO, but Russia’s close relations with Azerbaijan deter it from directly supporting the smaller state, however it does supply subsidised or free military materiel- even if it is older stock (Yavuz and Husenov, 2020, pp.106). Equally, whilst Azerbaijan is a member of neither (although formerly in CSTO), Russian maintains significant military and economic interests in the country. Russia stated to Azerbaijani President Aliyev that it ‘holds the key’ to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, although there is no sign it has used it yet (Yavuz and Husenov, 2020, pp.109-110). Maintaining the frozen conflict gives Russia influence over Azerbaijan by assuring it won’t directly aid Armenia, and makes Armenia even more reliant on Russia to supply its military despite its small budget and prop up the faltering Armenian economy. Although politically acquiescent to Russia, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan believes that Moscow benefits from the conflict to reduce Armenia to a “vassal state” which it doesn’t have to govern but can direct when it wants to. The current Russian-orchestrated truce is a “vague, open-ended, unclarified instrument to deepen Russian presence in the region”, leaving two thousand Russian troops in both states (Yavuz and Huseynov, 2020, p.113). Whilst regional political collapse would have negative consequences, the current instability, although not originating from the modern Russian state, is readily perpetuated by Moscow for its own purposes.

Whilst somewhat regulated political instability in the Caucasus in its western border can be accepted, Russia’s southern border in Central Asia covers thousands of miles from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan. This unpolicable border region contains transnational threats such as Islamist terrorism, human and narcotics trafficking networks, and both legal and illegal migration routes which have drawn the ire of Russian right wing nationalists (Schultz, 2021, online). Political instability here could have a drastically different effect on Russia than on its other borders. Most Central Asian borders were drawn by Soviet officials who attempted to delineate ethnic groups and tribes, many of which were nomadic, semi-nomadic or pastoral (Reeves, 2010, online). This has inevitably caused inter and intra-state conflict in what is one of the world’s most illiberal, non-democratic regions of the world. This is not to say that it is a necessarily undeveloped or unstable region, although there are elements of both present, but it does shape how Russia interacts with it. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, are four of the successors to the Soviet Union, however it is the fifth- Kazakhstan- that has grown to be the leading regional power. The region is not notable for its political stability, however despite, or perhaps because of government repression and unfair elections, no country has declined into failed state status (Kendzlor, 2013, online). Kazakhstan with its vast territory, mineral deposits, and growing wealth is seen as a key partner for Russia and is considered a reliable partner in the region (Lo, 2014, p.113). As with its neighbours it is essentially an autocracy with the previous president Nazarbaev ruling for almost three decades (Freedom House, 2021, online), during which he retained a close relationship with Moscow but not at the expense of Kazakh sovereignty. Nazarbaev’s voluntary transfer of power to close ally Tokayev occurred without incident, proving a measure of political stability. Russian foreign policy towards Kazakhstan is dominated by its integration into Russian-dominated organisations, namely CSTO, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the EAEU, however its largest trading partner is the EU and it is also a prominent member of the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Given their enormous mostly unmarked border, Russia benefits from Kazakhstani political stability, but once again it values influence and political area denial above almost all else. In response to Kazakh objections to EAEU expansion into security and immigration, Putin declared that Nazarbaev ruled “a territory that had never had a state before” as a thinly veiled threat denigrating the validity of the Kazakh-majority state (Lo, 2014, p.116). Russian foreign policy has not been a notable contributor to any political instability in Kazakhstan as it maintains what it views as a largely sufficient level of control via bilateral ties, the EAEU, and CSTO, even as it diversifies beyond economic interdependence (Belokrenitsky, 1994, p.1106). 

This is not the case elsewhere in the weaker states of Central Asia. Of lesser strategic importance and with small, remittance-reliant economies, clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over fertile land and water have been ignored despite Kyrgyz pleas (Helf, 2021, online). Although Russia values stability in the region, it is keen to maintain the status quo and thereby its unhindered rights of transit and open borders. Despite Chinese encroachment, Russian influence remains dominant, with Uzbek President Karimov acknowledging that “if the ruble and Russian economy continues to strengthen us, we would not be able to escape its influence” (Bhatty and Shahee, 2011, pp.57-57). Russia is unlikely to work to promote political stability in the region at the risk of alienating any of the smaller, personality-driven autocracies, and as such allows small-scale territorial conflict. But at the very least, Russia prevents undue political instability such as when it took a pro-Tajikistan stance in the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war to prevent a transnational Uzbek hegemony. Moreover, as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan spread to Kyrgyzstan, Russia provided military support to counter the insurgency (Bhatty and Shaheen, 2011, p.60). Furthermore, in 2002 Putin established an anti-terrorism rapid reaction force based out of Kyrgyzstan under the CIS’ collectiive security pact which links all post-Soviet Central Asia save Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (Akbarzadeh, 2004, p.700). But this is not all as it seems- this force was located 50km from the US military base in Kyrgyzstan in use as a staging post for the war in Afghanistan. Central Asia is seeing a convergence of Russian, Chinese, and American influence, and the Kremlin would likely use all of its soft and hard power to keep it within its own sphere of influence.

Russian foreign policy is not applied uniformly across the post-Soviet space, however it all contributes towards the same goal- to preserve and expand Moscow’s influence across its former Soviet republics and deny other parties (namely the West) from doing the same. It can be argued that it is from a defensive perspective and that maintaining this influence provides strategic buffers that allow more effective control over Russia’s vast unpolicable borders. Alternatively, and perhaps a more prominent view in the West and amongst some post-Soviet states, is that Putin’s Russia seeks to regain its status as a great power and is reluctant to view many former Soviet states as truly sovereign. This is reinforced by Putin’s rhetoric about the artificiality of the Kazakh state and his belief that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people…one nation in fact” (AP News, 2019, online). To expand and maintain its influence in the post-Soviet space and deny the West, Russian foreign policy has taken advantage of and exacerbated political instability as seen in Ukraine and Georgia. In Belarus it has risked instability by continuously tightening its economic grip on the country whilst propping up an increasingly unpopular autocrat, and it has worked to perpetuate political instability for its own geopolitical gain as seen with Armenia and Azerbaijan. In Russia’s more vulnerable and less populated southern flank, its foreign policy has worked to maintain the status quo except when responding to encroaching foreign influence. Russia values Central Asian political stability, but could feasibly risk this if its own influence and control of the region was at stake. As long as the political instability in the less developed Central Asian states does not spill over into Russian territory or unduly affect the established order, the Kremlin is content to play little active part in working towards a more politically stable future. Overall, Russian foreign policy has had an overwhelmingly negative impact on the political stability of European post-Soviet states and a more minimal impact towards Central Asia. Political instability is not an end Russia seeks to achieve, but a means to disrupt the expansion of western influence and gain leverage over states which no longer respond to its soft power.

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To what extent does the South China Sea dispute reflect both China’s approach to national security and its geopolitical position?

China’s approach to national security is influenced by its geography, its history, its neighbours, and its changing status as a former regional and current global power. As the US flexed its muscles in the late 19th and early 20th century, China aimed to revolutionise its own military and its soft power capabilities (Black, 2015, p.227). This revolution is perhaps most evident in its coastal and maritime developments, which has been one of its achilles heels during the European colonial period. Its concentric rings of security developed for land security strategy have been extended, with modifications, to include the sea (Black, 2015, p.252), hence the focus placed on the South China Sea (SCS). This is particularly important for China as it remains heavily reliant on Middle Eastern energy such as Saudi crude oil (Dollar and Hass, 2021, online), much of which is inevitably transported via sea trade routes including the Strait of Malacca and ending in the SCS. Russia shares Beijing’s interest in weakening the West’s grasp on the international order and there are arguments that policy coordination is growing to the level of a ‘concert’ between the two powers (Jones, 2020, p.5). However the two powers have had consistently oscillating relations throughout recent history, and although they share many interests it is unlikely that Russia will happily permanently relegate itself to a junior partner in a bilateral or multilateral relationship. Chinese geopolitics is also shaped by its internal policies such as its maltreatment of Uigher Muslims and other minorities, although conveniently its Islamic neighbour Pakistan relies on Beijing to support it against India.   

The SCS dispute is a prominent feature of Chinese geopolitics, however its land-based trade routes such as the development of a New Silk Road are also very important features of its Eurasian strategy as it seeks, through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), to head a regional economic union (Harper, 2017, p.8-9). China’s claims to the bosom of the East Asian trade network, the SCS, are approximately 62% of the entire area overlapping the claims of several UN member states and Taiwan (CRS, 2021, online). To enforce this claim and in fragrant disregard to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China has engaged in extensive land reclamation which was slated to be for holiday resorts. Naturally, it further developed the resorts with airstrips, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, and jammers (CRS, 2021, online). 

China is and will be reliant on its maritime trade routes and the SCS’ natural resources for the foreseeable future, despite the development of land trade routes and continental economic cooperation. This is not an issue in and of itself, and is shared by South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, however it could provide potential leverage to any state or organisation that could control it- notably the US. As reconciliation with Taiwan is politically inconceivable in Beijing, the US will have an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the region, even when its own ships could be zoned out by developments in Chinese missile technology. Chinese aggression in the SCS mirrors its increasingly assertive posture in global politics after shedding its “hide and bide” strategy, and could only be the beginning in it challenging all the linchpins of the current global order.   

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Looking at what VENONA (a US Counter-Intelligence program) revealed about Soviet espionage in the United States, were the accusations of rampant Communism in the US government by Senator Joe McCarthy and House of Un-American Affairs Committee justified?

Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC/HCUA) were prominent actors during the Second Red Scare in the United States, however neither were the instigators of it. Anti-communist sentiment that had already reared in the early 1900s rose again throughout the 1940s and 1950s as the hope of a post-war international consensus collapsed. McCarthy’s largely unsubstantiated rhetoric helped perpetuate the red scare to such an extent that the Truman administration felt it necessary to extend a wartime government employee loyalty program formalised in 1947. At its peak, this program screened 5 million federal workers between 1947 and 1956 alone (Storrs, 2015, online). This veritable witch hunt was also eagerly participated in by the HUAC and overall resulted in what is thought to be almost 15000 dismissals or resignations (Storrs, 2015, online). Additionally, in excess of 250 organisations were designated as subversive by the Attorney General and thousands of volumes written by ‘un-American’ authors purged from government libraries (Stone, 2005, pp.1392-1399). This period of history is often characterised as a type of national mass hysteria, but evidence for a more nuanced perspective of the era has grown. As the Cold War came to a close, a slew of new evidence from intelligence sources on both sides of the collapsed iron curtain came to light which evidenced the true extent of the Soviet infiltration of the US and the West at large. Much of this evidence came from the (partially) declassified US VENONA counter-intelligence project which exposed a fraction of the hundreds of Soviet spies in the US government and military. Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg opined “You are free to describe McCarthyism as a witch hunt…if you are willing to concede that actual witches existed in our midst” (Larry, 2020, online). Whilst this may be technically true, it does not vindicate the actions and accusations of McCarthy and the HUAC- only that they acknowledged the wider threat. This paper will examine what VENONA and similar research revealed and analyse to what extent, if at all, they justify the sweeping accusations made by the hardline Wisconsinite and committee.      

In the 1930s and 40s Texas Democrat Martin Dies chaired the newly minted HUAC using methods that Mccarthy would later be famed for- ‘red-baiting’, public accusations of anti-americanism, and accusing New Deal supporters of being too soft against the communist threat (Larry, 2020, online). Whilst President Roosevelt dismissed Dies’ fanaticism, the idea of communist infiltration of the US government gained prominence and the Republican Party rode the wave of fear to gain power in 1946. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican himself, began as an unknown from Wisconsin, defeating a fellow anti-communist Robert “Young Bob” Lafolette Jr, who himself likely stunted the growth of early American communism by dissasociating his progressive worker’s ideals from it (Maney, 2001, p.530). McCarthy would go on in 1950 to claim vast communist infiltration of the US government, highlighting the State Department specifically and stoking national hysteria (Storrs, 2015, online), however it is clear that the Second Red Scare predated and outlasted him. MCCarthy stated that “I have here in my hand a list of 205…names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working on and shaping policy in the State Department” (Stone, 2005, p.1395). While this was a bold claim, that list in its entirety was never shown and it is doubtful as to whether it ever existed, but he did publicly accuse 81 people in a Senate speech in 1950, adding almost dozens of additional names (or case numbers) to the Tydings Committee set up to evaluate his accusations (Haynes, 2007, online). In addition to these accusations, McCarthy accused many others as being part of a communist conspiracy or direct Soviet agents on an ad hoc basis. The only issue is that McCarthy would have had little access to sensitive counterintelligence resources, and certainly would have had zero knowledge of or access to the secretive VENONA project which was not even used in court proceedings. It is likely that the majority of McCarthy’s cases were drawn from the ‘Lee List’ compiled by the House Committee on Appropriations, which consisted of 108 unresolved security cases and was made accessible to the Tydings Subcommittee (Haynes, 2007, online).  

The House of Un-American Activities Committee also took a broad brush approach to anti-communism, and was more concerned with supposed cultural or social subversion than actual espionage and sabotage activities conducted on behalf of a foreign communist power. It had a significant focus on Hollywood and conducted detailed investigations into purported communists in the film industry. The Hollywood blacklist was enacted to deny employment to these suspected communists who worked as musicians, directors, and actors. When the ‘Hollywood Ten’ were cited for refusing to testify before the HUAC after invoking their First Amendment right to freedom of association, they were sentenced to 6 months in prison after the Supreme Court refused to hear their case (Ceplair and Englund, 1980, pp.54-61). Many of these accusations were based on previous membership in the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) which grew during the Great Depression and peaked during WW2, and therefore had a notable number of ex-members or ex-affiliates in professional occupations during the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond.

The Attorney General expanded the list of organisations supposedly involved in illegal activity  to hundreds of organisations. These included organisations such as the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, which aimed to “promote the general welfare and to improve the economic, social, political, cultural, and spiritual conditions of the people of the South, without regard to race, creed, colour, or national origin” (Gellhorn, 1947, p.1193). Although ostensibly a legal organisation with no elicit ties, it was deemed a subversive organisation by a committee report which notes a communist delegation to one of its meetings. The report, however, neglected to mention that the delegation consisted of only 0.4% of the total number of delegates present (Gellhorn, 1947, p.1199). Other groups that were added to the ever-growing list included the National Council of Jewish Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and many other groups that were mainstream but reformist organisations (Storrs, 2015, online). Even association with these organisations could be used as a bar for employment or as a justification for exclusion from public housing or veterans’ benefits. Naturally, civic organisations declined in membership as a result and even the joining of non-blacklisted civic organisations or activist groups was discouraged as it earmarked someone who would apparently be an easy target for communist recruiters. As such, defence attorneys encouraged clients to state that engaging in such activities was an anathema to them (Goldstein, 2008, p.118). 

However the HUAC didn’t solely exist to question the motives and ideologies of the social elite, and it did on occasion focus on actual issues of national security. In 1948 former members of CPUSA Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers stated that they had acted almost akin to agent handlers, managing spies within Washington including dozens of government officials, most notably Alger Hiss (Storrs, 2015, online). Alger Hiss was a former aide to the State Department who had been instrumental in the formation of the United Nations Charter, but by the time of his trial it had been over double the statute of limitations for espionage and he was only be able to be indicted on perjury. But this ‘trial of the century’ was not cut and dry- and certainly not with the information available to the legal proceedings. As anti-communist fervour heightened in 1950, the Truman administration increased the breadth of the loyalty program to allow directors of certain agencies to dismiss employees on security grounds, such as anything that could be used as blackmail. This included homosexuality, alcoholism, or relative and friends that were involved in a communist or blacklisted organisation (Storrs, 2013, pp.286-292). By 1953, the new Eisenhower administration applied this additional security measure to every civil service job alongside lower standards of evidence needed for dismissal and the expanded FBI kept tabs on many civil servants who had faced investigation. During this period of intense scrutiny, a small number of actual Soviet spies were being convicted, and in the case of the Rosenbergs- executed. Klaus Fuchs was arrested in the UK for leaking details of the Manhattan Project to the Soviets, as well as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Harry Gold amongst others. Three years after the Alger Hiss trial, in 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage. Clearly, even with the available information at the time, it was clear that the US- and its nuclear program specifically- had a spy problem.

Vehement anti-communism did not decline precipitously, however it waned throughout the 1950s as McCarthy’s accusations grew wilder. In his new position as chair of the Senate Committee on Government Operations he held hearings on library programs, notably the Voice of America. The book burnings that followed, allegations of a relationship between Protestantism and communism, and accusations of detractors such as Edward Murrow as having communist sympathies caused his popularity to decline significantly (Storrs, 2015, online). Similarly, the HUAC lost its prestige, and by 1959 was labelled as “the most un-American thing in this country today” by none other than former president Harry Truman (Charles Rivers Editors, 2015, p.1). As the Second Red Scare abated, the most intense period of McCarthyism drew to a close. Despite this, the hindsight provided by future research, the VENONA Project, and the fall of the Soviet Union would unveil a level of communist infiltration of the US and its institutions that almost fits the claims perpetuated by McCarthy and the HUAC.   

The Manhattan Project was the epicentre of Soviet espionage within the United States, to the extent that they “were able to build an atomic bomb several years before they otherwise would have” (Klehr, 2015, online). The US had anticipated its hegemony in the atomic sphere to last for a significant length of time, which led to information about Soviet advancements in the field being dismissed out of hand. It is no surprise that the Soviet Union focused so much attention on the Manhattan Project as a lopsided balance of power could lead to nuclear blackmail (Kern et al, 2010, p.706). To this end, agent handlers worked to recruit spies across the West through means of ideology, blackmail, and financial incentives, with domestic communist parties such as CPUSA used as recruitment hubs and centres for underground activity. Alongside spies such as the Rosenbergs, Gold, and Greenglass were others such as Alan Nunn May who provided samples of the uranium isotope to Russian intelligence. CPUSA itself was receiving over 3 million USD each year from the Soviet Union in subsidies which only declined as its leadership distanced itself from Glasnost  and Perestroika (Klehr, 2015, online). 

But arguably the biggest public information coup in regards to the communist infiltration of the US occurred when the Soviet Union fell and its archives temporarily and partially opened to researchers, and subsequently the US counter-intelligence VENONA project was partially declassified. The declassification of the VENONA project evidenced that some select parties (HUAC and McCarthy not included) were, to a much more significant extent, aware of the level of communist infiltration into the government. KGB and GRU stations across the US communicated through encrypted and enciphered cables sent via Western Union. The best practice was to use a diplomatic pouch, however to summarise the intelligence in a more timely fashion cabled reports could be sent using an encryption method consisting of a sheet of papers containing random number groups known as a one-time pad. The first number on the page signified the first number of the message, which would notify the cypher clerk in Moscow as to which one-time pad was used for the cypher (Klehr, 2015, online). This was theoretically impossible to crack, however duplicate first numbers and human error in using the pads twice instead of once allowed US cryptanalysts to crack 2900 messages sent between 1941 and 1946. However this was not an instant process and it took 25 years for the program to break only pieces of the twice-used cyphers (Klehr, 2015, online).

Through the VENONA program and other counter-intelligence activities it is known that around 350 Americans, many in senior positions, had worked for Soviet intelligence during WW2. Of these, 125 have been identified and 200 remain unknown to this day. Even the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had been pockmarked with at least 16 spies including a chief counsellor to Director William Donovan (Klehr, 2015, online). Other organisations that were infiltrated included the Justice Department, Censorship Office, Signal Corps, War Department, and Office of War Information amongst others. The deputy head of the Treasury Department and key figure in the construction of the post-war economic order, Harry Dexter White, was also an accused Soviet informant. Whilst the VENONA project confirmed his status as a spy, this was not public knowledge until the declassification of its records. However whilst VENONA was a closely kept state secret and was not used in any court proceedings, it was also known to the Soviets- another example of how deep Soviet infiltration of the West was. A Russian language specialist who worked in the project, William Weisband, was a Soviet spy, and the British SIS liaison officer was none other than the double agent Kim Philby (Klehr, 2015, online). Due to this early awareness of the project, the Soviets could frustrate the FBI’s counter-intelligence efforts by ceasing communication with any leaked spies. The FBI did manage to follow up some of the intelligence through the exposed codenames, many of which reflected their identity such as ‘MLAD’ or ‘youngster’ for Theodore Hall who was 19 on his recruitment (OSTI, 2021, online). Upon being called to the HUAC, many suspected spies remained silent which both implicated their guilt but prevented any self-incrimination, and as there was little admissible evidence the response was often limited to forcing them out of government service. Even the evidence against Alger Hiss was reinforced through the unveiling of an agent codenamed ‘ALES’ in a VENONA intercept and research into the KGB archives, matching Hiss’ timelines during his visit to Yalta and position in the US Treasury (Mark, 2009, p.38), although this has not stopped a small but ardent group of his defenders from arguing against it.   

In 1945 authors Brent Bozell and William Buckley stated that McCarthy’s record in exposing communists was “not only much better than his critics allege but, given his métier (occupation), extremely good” (Larry, 2020, online). But since the partial declassification of VENONA and glimpse into the KGB archives, it is now possible to more accurately graph the Soviet spies that have been identified at this date against the accusations made by McCarthy. Whilst his likely fabricated list was never revealed in full, his public accusations encompassed around 159 people. Of these, approximately nine now have substantial evidence that they were active in Soviet espionage. These included Lauchlin Currie, an economist and Latin American affairs specialist, and fellow economist Harold Glasser who was an associate of Harry Dexter White (Haynes, 2007, online). A tenth, David Zablodowsky, is still an unknown with no firm evidence either way. However that is not to say that the remainder of the accused had no good reason to be accused- many of them had factors that would increase their likelihood of being a security risk. Some were former or current members of CPUSA, were affiliated with organisations that had communist sympathies, or had been affiliated with a communist youth organisation. Frederick Schuman was known to be sympathetic to communist ideals, however other accused parties such as Stephen Brunauer cleanly separated from the movement upon reaching adulthood (Haynes, 2007, online).

The number of parties accused by McCarthy who were bona fide Soviet agents were negligible, although a larger portion had shown some level of affiliation with communism. However this portion includes officials with enduring communist sympathies, but not necessarily any inclination to subvert the US or commit espionage on another nation’s behalf, as well as those who had limited historical affiliation with the ideology. Furthermore, some on the list such as George Marshall and Drew Pearson posed no known risk at all with no evidence linking them, historically or during their tenure, to the ideology or any affiliated communist groups (Haynes, 2007, online). Similarly, the HUAC’s only real ‘success’ was the hearings of Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers which led to the exposure of many government officials as well as Harry Dexter White and Alger Hiss. But despite this, with the evidence from VENONA often several years behind and inadmissible in court, there was little actionable information other than the removal of implicated officials.

There may have been witches in their midst, however neither McCarthy or the House of Un-American Affairs Committee achieved any substantial breakthrough in exposing them. The disciplined, largely ideologically motivated cabal of communist spies and sympathisers within the US government was not exposed through the furore of anti-communist activity during the Second Red Scare. Moreover, whilst the VENONA project and other counter-intelligence activities had identified suspected spies, the HUAC or McCarthy had no more awareness of it than any regular citizen. Of McCarthy’s accusations, many were wholly unsubstantiated and those that did have substance were previously known through the ‘Lee List’ that was already in circulation. Towards the latter end of the 1950s, many of his accusations were neither substantiated nor previously known, but were increasingly erratic and fantastical, levelled at anyone who criticised him. The HUAC expended significant resources on rooting out communist influence in American society to no actual benefit, only succeeding in undermining American democracy through stifling civic life, reformism, and criticism of the status quo. Criticism can be readily levelled at the US administrations prior to 1950 for failing to act upon the threat of Soviet espionage, but the knee-jerk reaction of the Second Red Scare, perpetuated by McCarthy and the HUAC fared little better at combating it and at great socio-political cost. Historian John Haynes opined that “When McCarthy was right, he was not original….when he was original, he was wrong”. Neither McCarthy or the HUAC had the right sources or countermeasures to act upon the Soviet infiltration, and the revelations from the VENONA project only further evidence how disconnected their accusations were from reality.  

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Ceplair, Larry, and Englund, Steven (1980), The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960, Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Charles Rivers Editors (2015), The House Un-American Activities Committee: The History and Legacy of Congress’ Most Notorious Investigative Committee, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 

Gellhorn, Walter (1947), ‘Report on a Report of the House Committee on Un-American Activities’, Harvard Law Review, 60(8), pp.1193-1234.

Goldstein, Robert J (2008), American Blacklist: The Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Haynes, John E. (2007), Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Lists and VENONA accessed 22/04/2021.

Klehr, Harvey (2005), Was Joe McCarthy Right?, online. accessed 23/04/2021.

Kern G., Schecter L., and Ransom J. (2010), ‘The Trouble with Atomic Spies’, Intelligence and National Security, 25(5), pp.705-724.  

Maney, Patrick (2001), ‘Joe McCarthy’s First Victim’, The Virginia Quarterly Review, 77(3), pp.529-536.

Office of Scientific and Technical Information (2021), Venona Intercepts, online. accessed 17/04/2021.

Storrs, Landon R. Y. (2015), McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare, online. accessed 19/04/2021.

Storrs, Landon R. Y. (2013), The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left, Princeton University Press.

Stone, Geoffrey (2005), ‘Free Speech in the Age of McCarthy: A Cautionary Tale’, California Law Review, 93(5), pp.1387-1412.

Tye, Larry (2020), McCarthyism, online. accessed 20/04/2021.


How convincing is the argument that democracies don’t fight each other?

There is a liberal theory in international relations called the democratic peace proposition, also known as the democratic peace theory. Within this theory, there is a monadic and dyadic hypothesis, stating that either democratic states are less violent in their foreign relations in general, or that they are specifically less violent in their relations with other democracies. The proposition itself states that democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with one another. The support for the theory that democratic states do not go to war with other democracies is, according to Bruce Russett, “one of the strongest non-trivial or non-tautological generalisations that can be made about international relations” (Chan, 1997, p.60). This is not a new or unheard of conclusion, with Bill Clinton noting that “Democracies rarely wage war on one another”, and former NSA advisor Anthony Lake observing that democratic values and international peace mutually reinforce one another (Chan, 1997, p.59). This hasn’t always been the case, however. Renowned American political scientist Quincy Wright stated quite uncontroversially (at the time of 1942) that there were warlike and peaceful tendencies in both democracies and autocracies, and statistics wouldn’t validate a democratic peace hypothesis (Ray, 1995, p.30). But in modernity, this belief of the sanctity of democratic peace has become a linchpin of American thought, and that promoting demcratic institutions across the world is to make a more peaceful international society (Kissinger, 1994, p.33). In this paper I will demonstrate that, if ‘fighting’ means war, the argument that democracies do not fight each other is a very convincing one. I will also attempt to analyse why this is the case as well as other contributing factors, and what it means for the realist school of thought. I will be primarily using the term ‘fight’ to mean inter-state armed conflict, but other violent or subversive actions will be looked at. Additionally, I will endeavour to evaluate what we consider as a ‘democracy’, and other interpretations of such.

The idea of a democratic state is a continually developing concept. What was considered a democracy a century ago may not be considered one now (Ray, 1998, p.31). The breakaway Confederate States of America was arguably a democracy, but one in which less than 50% of the population could vote. Even modern definitions of democracy are debated, with Dr Ido Oren stating that democratic ideals are instead the products of America’s past foreign relations (Chan, 1997, p.65). That, however, is beyond the scope of this paper. When agreeing that democracies have not gone to war with each other, it is an agreement that states which have achieved a certain level of democracy have not done so (Ray, 1998, pp.32-33). While Jack Levy describes the absence of war among democratic nations as being the closest thing to an empirical law in international relations, this was not always mainstream scholarly thought. Sociologist Dean Babst wrote what was at the time an obscure article in the journal Industrial Research noting that between the period of 1789 to 1941 no democracies had gone to war with each other (Chan, 1997, p.60). The initial consensus in International Relations remained that there was no particular correlation between the regime type of a state and how war-prone they were held until challenged by Rudolph Rummel. Rummel focused on what he called libertarian states, or states emphasising civil liberties alongside a competitive election of leaders, which is a close enough comparison to liberal democracies. He found that these libertarian states were less involved in war than their autocratic counterparts, which is disputed, and they were never involved in war with another democratic state, which is more universally recognised (Chan, 1997, p.63).   

Proponents of the democratic peace theory and the theory that democracies do not go to war with each other hark back to Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace. Kant theorised that perpetual peace overcoming international anarchy was possible through republics respecting the will of the people. Public opinion would be a force against belligerence as the citizenry would be reluctant to commit to “such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war” (Kant, 1795). Commerce and shared values and common institutions would be the two other factors that would ensure a perpetual peace. Rummel favoured a monadic hypothesis finding a negative relationship between democracy and violence as a whole, not just between democracies themselves. Theorists such as Kenneth Boit and Jon Wilkenfield support Rummel’s view that democracies reduce the odds of conflict in general, not just in conflict with non-democracies (Chan, 1997, p.63). This monadic view is not accepted by most theorists who prefer a dyadic perspective of a democratic peace- that democratic states create a separate and joint zone of peace amongst themselves that does not extend to autocracies. David Rousseau found significant evidence in support of a democratic peace but not in a peace encompassing both democratic states and all of their foreign relations- just the democratic ones (Chan, 1997, pp.63-64). This does not necessarily disprove Kant’s theory. Democratic states will still have to participate in power politics in the international system as they operate in a non-Kantian system alongside major nondemocratic powers. The studies advocating a democratic peace are not done in a vacuum either, such as the study by Maoz and Abdolali that found no inter-state wars between democracies, and less between democracies and other states than expected. This was adjusted for geography, economics, and alliances among other factors. The results still show that out of all of the possible variables, only the regime type and political instability factor into a state’s war-proneness (Maoz and Abdolali, 1989, pp.3-35).

The argument that democratic states do not fight each other, and the democratic peace theory in general, is not without its detractors, both to its premise and its implications. One of the main issues is that until recently democracies have been a minority, and a minority in an international system with far less nation-states. In 1840 there were 32 sovereign states, and today there are approximately 196, depending on the recognition of partially recognised states and nations of disputed sovereignty (Chan, 1997, p.74). Of these, the 21st century is the first time in history in which the majority of them are democracies with 57% being assessed as democratic, albeit many of them having shaky democratic foundations. The number of outright autocracies in the world is only 13% (Desilver, 2019, online). Skeptics question whether data analysis and pattern identification of such a limited data set is viable. The probability of war at any one time is low, but even with a cumulative effect the time period in which democracies have been a significant proportion of the international system is miniscule.  Even if democratic states had the same propensity for war-proneness as autocratic states, with the time constraints and number of possible and reasonable democratic pairings for potential war, the expectation for any state to engage in war would be low (Chan, 1997, p.72). We are also limiting the word ‘fight’ in this context to warfare. 

Studies done by Lewis Richardson and Quincy Wright in 1960 and 1942 respectively found that democracies were not less prone when the definition of conflict was expanded beyond war to escalation, skirmishes, or military interventions (Richardson, 1996). As seen with the covert actions of the West- notably the USA- during the Cold War, if ‘fight’ were to also include subterfuge, espionage, and subversion, democracies would look less peaceful. This was not limited to actions just against autocratic states either. The Guatemalan Revolution in 1944 resulted in the first free elections in the country and a successful and peaceful transition of power between two democratically elected presidents (Gleijeses, 1991, p.3). The Eisenhower Administration saw Guatemala as siding with the Soviets and began a campaign to discredit the Guatemalan government politically before launching a coup using CIA armed and backed right-wing guerillas to overthrow the elected government (Immerman, 1982, p.110). Although not a formal war by any means, one could certainly expand ‘fight’ to include such a campaign. The definition of war and what is counted as a war is problematic in and of itself. The threshold for a state to be counted as a participant in a war is low when contrasted with the threshold for war itself- considered as having 1000 personnel deployed in the conflict or 100 KIA by many such as Arvid Raknerud and Havard Hegre. Equally, the 100-hour ‘Football War’ between Guatemala and Honduras would be counted as one incident of war, as would Vietnam. These factors result in data analysis of wars democracies have been involved in not necessarily representing the true magnitude and reality of what occurred.

Although I have decided to limit the definition of ‘fight’ in this instance to interstate wars, there is an argument to be made against the democratic peace theory that it should include civil and extra-systematic wars. After all, the realist scholar Christopher Layne opined “if democratic norms and culture fail to prevent the outbreak of civil war within democracies, what reason is there to believe that they will prevent the outcome of interstate wars between democracies?” (Layne, 1994, p.41). Layne goes on to challenge perceptions that public opinion will always be an inhibitor to democratic states going to war. In 1891, the McKinley Administration was reluctant to engage in war with Spain, but was encouraged to do so by public opinion. In 1914 France and Britain, public opinion was enthusiastic about a perhaps inevitable war with Germany (Becker, 2015, online). Regardless, if we limit ‘fight’ to war, are there any examples of a clear cut case of an interstate war between democracies? Rummel did not count marginal or ambiguous cases against the democratic peace theory, but stated that “one clear case of violence or war unqualified by very unusual or mitigating circumstances falsifies the proposition [of democratic peace]” (Chan, 1997, p.70).

For one possible instance there was the Cenepa War lasting around a month with less than 100 official casualties between Peru and Ecuador. Ecuador was a solid democracy, however Peru was led by Alberto Fujimori who took control via a coup and won a second term with accusations of voting irregularities (Nohlen, 2005, p.454). A better example on the South American continent may be the Paquisha War fought between Ecuador and Peru, two young democracies, in 1981. Do these states pass the democratic threshold? Perhaps not, as neither nation had democratic control over their militaries (Weart, 1998, p.70). The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus was in response to a Cypriot coup d’état (Mansfield and Snyder, 2007, pp.223-225), the First Kashmir War was between two supposedly democratic British Dominions although in reality the Pakistani military was not under civilian control (Paul, 2005, pp.47-48), and Lebanon in the Six Day War was a very disputed democracy (Systemic Peace, 2020, online). The Continuation War involved democratic Finland and Britain and the US, although was principally against the Soviets and according to historian Jonathan Clements was mainly for appearances sake resulting in few casualties (Clements, 2012, pp.208-210). While these could fit a definition of a ‘fight’, none of these examples are clear-cut cases. There has not, to date, been such a clear-cut case between two states with developed liberal democracies without mitigating circumstances (Chan, 1997, p.60), despite opponents of the democratic peace proposition pointing out potential irregularities and flaws in both the data analytics and theory. But if democracies do not fight each other, why is this the case? Additionally, there is conflicting evidence about whether governments with more constraints, inherent in many liberal democracies, are the least war-prone. Clifton Morgan and Sally Campbell in 1991 found that governments facing the most severe constraints on decision-making were the least war-prone (Campbell and Morgan, 1991, p.190). Conversely, Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder found that too much constraint lead to hypernationalism, exemplified in democratising states such as Weimar Germany (Mansfield and Snyder, 1995, pp.12-13).

It is theorised that democracies will only extend their domestic norms of tolerance and compromise to other states they perceive to be a democracy (Starr, 92, p.208). Studies have shown that political ideology (as well as religion) distinguishes allies from adversaries in the eyes of the population, and that public opinion is more inclined towards the use of force against an autocracy than a democracy (Ray, 1995, p.93). Bueno de Mesquita and David Lalman theorised that there is a dichotomous category in regards to whether two democracies will go to war, and that is whether both states perceive the other to be a fellow democracy, or ‘democratic dove’ (Mesquita et al, 1986, p.158). Leaders perceive others to be either a fellow democratic dove, an ambiguous case, a nondove, or a ‘hawk’. When there is mutual recognition of dovishness, leaders prefer to negotiate than fight. They are, however, likely to err on the side of caution and place a dove in the nondove category rather than risk the other way around (Mesquita et al, 1986, pp.160-165). John Owen noted that “a liberal democracy will only avoid war with a state that it believes to be liberal” (Owen, 1994, p.102) 

There are also both structural and normative explanations for why democracies avoid war with each other. For a structural explanation, there are structural restraints and shared cultures in democracies. The institutions of democracies provide significant numbers of checks and balances as well as limiting the autonomy of leaders  (Choi, 2003, pp.143-145). In unrestrained autocracies, there are far less checks to a leader’s power, and if set on war, there is little that can be done to prevent it. This, however, seems an imperfect explanation of why democracies do not go to war as there are various other nondemocratic forms of state which through institutions and other arrangements limit the power of the leader. If the institutions that restrain leaders and executives prevent democracies from going to war, they ought to prevent all states with similar constraints which is not the case. Moreover, it is often the case that these democratic structures- cabinets, legislatures, and publics, have been more belligerent than the government heads they are supposed to constrain (Mintz and Geva, 1993, p.495). The normative explanation is likely a better answer. Democracies do not intrinsically treat each other ‘better’ than other states, but they are less likely to go to war with them (Weart, 1994, p.485). This is theorised to be because of the domestic norms that exist in developed democracy that allow for it to work effectively such as the willingness to compromise, the contestation of elections, power sharing, and tolerance towards differing viewpoints. If both states recognise the other as a fellow democratic dove, these domestic norms that are conducive to a democratic culture are expanded to cover inter-state relations (Mintz and Geva, 1993, p.485). As they are conducive to nonviolent contestation of power, they are conducive to a similar nonviolence contestation between fellow democratic states. Within normative theory, some recognise the current international system as a unique opportunity to reconstruct international norms and values that underpin the international system to better reflect the interactions between democracies which now make up a majority of the world’s systems (Russett, 1993, pp.279-280). It is also important to note that not all norms are positive, and a widening chasm between social and liberal democracies may see greater tensions in the future (Widmaier, 2005, p.435).

The democratic peace proposition is also an affront to the realist view of international relations, and traditional realist thought cannot coexist with a democratic peace- “realism has no place for an expectation that democracies will not fight each other” (Russett, 1993, p.24). Realism proposes that each state is first and foremost a selfish entity that will act in its own interests for power or safety in an anarchic self-help system. The democratic peace proposition, or even the basic idea that democracies do not or very rarely go to war with each other has democracies going against their own interests in the interest of peace. The regime type of a state, and whether it is a democracy or not, ought to have little bearing or constraints on states acting in what they perceive to be the most advantageous way. Mutual democracy, the democratic peace theory proposes, constrains states sovereignty in a way that is incompatible with realism. Realist theories to counteract this include that the system of alliances such as NATO prevents war between democracies, not their democratic nature, but this is an incomplete explanation in a world full of unaligned democracies.

There is evidence, however, that democracy may be a poison chalice- at least initially. While evidence suggests that democracies do not go to war with each other, it also indicates that democratising states (states that are undergoing a transition towards democracy) are more likely than either democracies or nondemocracies to go to war (Russett, 1993, p.636). Democratisation could consolidate a new democratic regime, but also forms a high likelihood of triggering hypernationalism as seen in Wilhelmine Germany and with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic (Zakaria, 1997, p.35). A state is more likely to succeed in forming a stable democracy in place of a nondemocratic regime when there is a particular historical sequence- the emergence of a national identity alongside the institutionalisation of the central government, and followed by mass electoral and political participation (Mansfield and Snyder, 2006, pp.36-38). This is an ideal scenario, but is an unlikely one for prospective democracies. 

Democracies, it seems, do not go to war with each other, having established a zone of peace amongst all others they perceive to be of a democratic nature as well. Acknowledging a small data set, there have only been dubious and marginal cases that would come close to disproving this hypothesis of a proposed democratic peace. Despite disagreement between rival theorists, it does not seem that democracies extend this zone of peace to the remainder of the world following nondemocratic regime types. Also, countries undergoing democratisation may in fact be more prone to violence. Limiting the scope of the word ‘fight’ provides a solid argument that democracies do not fight each other, however if one were to widen the scope to include events such as subterfuge, subversion, espionage, and militarised interstate disputes, any aura of utopian peace between democracies vanishes. Democracies as an international majority and an emerging international norm of the correct type of governance is relatively recent, and stable democracies are overwhelmingly concentrated in the West, or pro-West states. This provides ammunition for arguments that democratic rule isn’t the primary factor for the peace of these states, but is countered by empirical studies of the like of Maoz’s showing otherwise. Does that mean Immanuel Kant is right about a perpetual peace amongst republics that could eventually encompass a newly pacified world? Perhaps not especially seeing misalignments in Kant’s views of a republic and contemporary views of a liberal democracy. Regardless, if past, present, and much theory is correct, a successfully democratising world will likely be more peaceful, albeit with greater risks for violence during many a democratising process. The domestic norms of democracy prove to be well-adjusted to avoiding violence and escalation even in an international sphere, and democratic institutions help prevent rash action by leaders. Despite this, the blanket statement that all publics will universally refrain from all wars is judged incorrect, although democratic institutions and norms help prevent escalation. Whilst the evidence and theory points towards a miniscule chance of inter-democratic war occuring if it ever did we may see that Winston Churchill’s warning that “the wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings” rings true (International Churchill Society, 2020, online).



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Kissinger, H., 1994. Diplomacy. Pocket Books: Reprinted Edition

Layne, C., 1994. The Myth of the Democratic Peace. International Security, Vol.19, Issue 2.

Mansfield, E., and Snyder, J., 2007. Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies go to War. MIT Press; New Ed Edn.

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Morgan, C., and Campbell, S,. 1991. Domestic Structure, Decisional Constraints, and War: So Why Kant Democracies Fight? Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 35, Issue 1.

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Ray, J.L, 1995. Democracy and International Conflict: An Evaluation of the Democratic Peace Proposition. Colombia: University of South Carolina Press

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Turkmenistan Travel Guide

Turkmenistan has all the trappings of a true tourist destination- sandy beaches, rich history, Stalinist architecture, and presidential personality cults. Ah, but “is it safe” I hear you say. Of course it is! This is because of a strict 11pm curfew in the bustling, metropolitan capital of Ashgabat. The nightlife is insane, as long as you’re back with a glass of warm milk by 10:50pm. But if you do get caught out after worries- fear not- with a well-placed bribe you’ll be on your way- almost guaranteed since Turkmenistan is the joint third most corrupt country in the world. How handy!

The largest beach resort in Turkmenistan is the ultra-modern town of Avaza situated on Turkmenistan’s only coast on the Caspian Sea. Which is technically a big lake, but still. It has beautiful somewhat sandy beaches, “peculiar green” and quite chilly waters adequate for paddling, and almost one billion USDs worth of investment on the orders of  glorious President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow, Arkadag (the Protector) of Turkmenistan. This is despite the entire town often having zero tourists either domestic or international- but that just means you won’t have to wait for the squat rack in the hotel gym! Mausoleums, mosques, and a perpetually burning gas crater in the middle of the desert that some think is the entrance to hell- visit Turkmenistan today.


Important Cities and Why They Are Important? Part I: Sevastopol, Ukraine

Part 1: Context

Although the title says Sevastopol, Ukraine, the focus of this piece is going to be on its big, red, ursine neighbour- the Russian Federation. You see, Sevastopol is the largest city and biggest port of the Crimea- a large, populated peninsula jutting from Ukraine proper into the Black Sea. The only thing is that it is now under de facto Russian control for the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A quick google search will show you how it happened, but the real question is why it happened.

A resurgent Russia under a new strongman, ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, naturally poses a risk to its neighbours. Russia always has been a land power controlling a landmass larger than Pluto but with limited power projection outside its near abroad. Unfortunately for Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and others, they are within spitting distance of the Kremlin. Over half the Russian population miss the Soviet Union, despite its gulags and famines and secret police, and it’s no secret that most are to some extent supportive of the idea of a “Greater Russia” encompassing many of its former lands in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. CSTO, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation- a haphazard attempt at emulating NATO, also serves to push Russian influence onto its more consenting neighbours.

Russians respect strength, and nothing shows strength like old-fashioned territorial expansion. It established the unrecognised satellite state of Transnistria on the eastern fringes of Moldova, an exclave of ethnic Russians, most of whom have Russian passports. And then in 2008, the Russo-Georgian War, where ethnic Russians were used to justify the invasion of the small Orthodox state in the Caucasus, establishing two tiny unrecognised states that are, formalities aside, now part of Russia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are two frozen conflict zones with barely an attempt at faking sovereignty and are closely watched by Georgia from across the Russian border works. And then it turned its eye to the Crimea.

Russia has always been shaped by its geography and the natural barriers that separate it from its neighbours, or in this case the lack of many of such barriers except the nation’s vast size. The vastness of the Siberian wilderness protects its east to an extent, and its quasi-vassal states in the plains to its south do provide a buffer, if a porous one, against large-scale incursions. Russia’s old borders in the Carpathian Mountains provided a bulwark for its south-west, but the Great European Plain stretching from the Baltics to Austria provides little in the way of defence save its network of countless rivers, tributaries, and canals. These waterways are the reasons that so many of the Soviet Union’s, and now Russia’s military kit is amphibious. Russian everpresent military conscription and disproportionate arms spending plugs this geographical gap with men and steel.

In the aquatic theatre, Russia faces even more geographical problems, and these are ones that no amount of warm bodies and vodka rations can fix. Having such a huge coastline is usually indicative of ease of maritime transport, navigation, and shipping- both civil and military, however, Russia is an exception to this rule. Politically many seaports would be of limited use in a military conflict as due to the creeping allure of NATO and occasional unrelated distaste for Russian antics potential enemies could restrict access. The best example of this is the port of Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the frigid Baltic Sea. Kaliningrad is the home of the Russian Baltic Fleet consisting of 10 main surface vessels, 2 Kilo-class submarines, and auxiliaries, as well as a large civilian port. However, between Kaliningrad and the open waters is the Baltic itself- prowled by the small NATO navies of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well the more capable Danish and German navies. Indeed one has to traverse through the heart of Denmark, past NATO member Norway, and into the Royal Navy’s north sea domain to fully leave the Baltic. As per international maritime law Denmark cannot stop traffic travelling through the sea lanes around its islands, but a military conflict would be much different. The huge port of St. Petersburg towards the north of the Baltic Sea is the same, albeit with a more commercial focus. The non-affiliated but NATO sympathetic and surprisingly powerful countries of Finland and Sweden watch St. Petersburg’s comings and goings from their perches north and west of the port.

The nearest non-Baltic seaport to Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg is Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic circle with around 300 000 inhabitants. Murmansk surprisingly is ice-free all year round. Ice, as it turns out, is really bad for a port. Murmansk, despite being three miles north of the arse end of nowhere is still subject to potential restriction by the GIUK gap (Greenland, Iceland, UK gap). And Vladivostok, the country’s largest Pacific port, is monumentally distant from Russia’s heartland. For 700 years Russia has sought more warm water ports, specifically those with access to the bustling Mediterranean economy, and by the 17th century, it had secured access to the Black Sea. While still potentially militarily still restricted by the Dardanelles and Bosporus, commercially it is of unparalleled value. The Black Sea fleet use the strait routinely, most recently for Russia’s Syrian campaign based out of the naval base at Tartus, Syria. It just so happens that Tartus is a naval base in the Mediterranean unrestricted by any straight or geographical outcrop right up until Gibraltar.

Part 2: Sevastopol

Russia does maintain a single port in the Black Sea- Novorossiysk- one of the largest ports in Russia and indeed the wider region by both berths and trade tonnage. Sevastopol, however, has always been home to the Russian Black Sea fleet, even when it was administered by Ukraine. It is both deep water, able to command, control, and refit naval vessels to a standard far higher than Tartus, and is naturally ice-free all year round. The Crimean peninsula itself is dependable with a road link to Russia proper and has always had a significant Russian population. Due to its comparatively recent separation from Russia in 1993 many inhabitants are generally pro-Russian. Native Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians are notably less so. Despite having a 25-year lease on the naval base at Sevastopol, Ukraine’s lurch to the West clearly worried Russia. While unlikely to join NATO, even if it has stated its intent to try to, a Ukraine with closer EU and US ties is not a prospect that excites most Russians.

Bypassing the Carpathian mountains and lurching deep into Russia, an even potentially belligerent Ukraine could not be allowed by the Kremlin. And while Russia is pouring billions of its declining roubles into its military, moving its deepwater naval base and facilities would be an incredible and length investment, one better spent on its new T-14 Armata tank or Uran-9 UGV. Not that tank-like UGVs could operate effectively in a conventional or even most unconventional warfare scenarios, but that’s another issue entirely.

The Crimean peninsula has consistently been inhabited since long before the classical era and its days as a Hellenic Pontic state. Sevastopol being the largest city on the peninsula gives an appropriate amount of zone of control over Crimea while the peninsula as a whole provides control of the surrounding maritime regions, even more so if its holder maintains a standing fleet. The isthmus of Perekop is punctuated by the North Crimean Canal, a small waterway easily able to overcome the 6km strip of land that ensures Crimea does not become an island. Initially used to provide fresh water from the Dnieper to Crimea, it has since fallen into disrepair. Control over the Crimea also grants control over the Kerch Strait and by extent the Sea of Azov. The Sea of Azov itself is a small, extremely shallow sea whose low salt content and algal blooms result in extensive fish stocks and therefore encourages local fishing. The Ukrainian city of Mariupol stands at the shore of the Sea of Azov and was once an important Ukranian port. However, the Crimean bridge built by Russia connecting the mainland to Crimea serves to make it even easier to blockade as the world has seen in the 2018 Kerch Strait incident. After engaging 3 small Ukrainian naval vessels a Russian cargo ship traversed between the spans of the bridge blocking all movement in and out of the sea. To this day and in violation of the Russian-signed 2003 freedom of transit treaty Ukrainian forces have not attempted to navigate through and Ukrainian commercial traffic has been severely disrupted. The Ukrainian sailors captured in the incident remain imprisoned.

So why is Sevastopol important? Its huge naval base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet, all-year round access to the Mediterranean, control over the Crimean coastline and the Sea of Azov are but a few small reasons.

Next time: Singapore


The Strait of Gibraltar and its Strategic Importance

The Eurafrican Mediterranean Sea has been the lifeblood of countless societies and cultures since civilisation immemorial situated within and around its basin, examples of which being the old city-states of Greece, the trade empire of Carthage, their victorious foes the Romans, and the ancient civilisations of Egypt. Its climate allows for garrigue ecoregions to flourish and the cultivation of Old World staples such as grain, olives, and grapes. Its lack of tides and prominence of habitable islands ensured that the Mediterranean acted as a highway for early cultural, social, and economic exchanges by cultures and empires on all its coasts and far beyond, and its impact on these early civilisations is not to be understated.

Its impact nary diminished as time went on and the great empires of Spain, Portugal, and the Ottomans and their Barbary State satraps rose and fell. The importance of the Rock fo Gibraltar specifically was recognised very early on and was settled by the Moors in the 12th century until reclaimed hundreds of years later during the Reconquista. Under Castilian rule it was Isabella I who granted Gibraltar its coat of arms that is still used today.

A strait in geographical terms is a narrow passage of water connecting two larger bodies of water, and the Strait of Gibraltar is an excellent example of such a geographical phenomena connecting the vast Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean- the world’s largest drainage basin- via a channel only 14km wide and watched over by the Rock, a large piece of monolithic limestone towering over the sea from the underside of the Iberian peninsula. Gibraltar, currently a small British Overseas Territory of a little over 32 000 people, retains its coat of arms gifted by the Isabella I of Castile consisting of a red three-towered castle under which hangs a golden key, symbolising its reputation as a fortress-settlement and as the key to the Mediterranean. Montis insignia calpe, Latin for the badge of the rock of Gibraltar, is featured below the escutcheon.

As Great Britain became a growing naval power it set its eyes on controlling such a powerful maritime chokepoint. To counter Louis XIV of France’s expansionist policies an alliance of states was formed under the League of Augsburg in 1686 including Austria, Bavaria, Portugal, Saxony, Savoy, the Dutch Republic, and originally Spain, among others. Upon England and Scotland’s joining 3 years later it became known as the Grand Alliance. During the War of Spanish Succession the embattled Spain switched sides to that of France’s and an Anglo-Dutch force, wanting a port on the Iberian peninsula after failing to capture Cádiz, launched a mission to capture it in 1704. After a lengthy naval bombardment by 63 English and Dutch ships and a deployment of marines the town was captured, and though the Grand Alliance eventually fell apart Britain was ceded Gibraltar “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Numerous sieges by the Spanish were attempted to regain the region but a strong military, particularly Royal Navy presence, aided by the natural mountainous terrain and its subterranean passages, helped ward each attack off. Since then the Rock has played a part in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War further to the East. Its importance only increased as the Suez Canal opened seeing trade from as far afield as China and Dutch East Indies pass through the strait.

During the Second World War the territory of Gibraltar and its control over the strait was invaluable. It was a critical staging post in Operation Pedestal, the supplying of Malta in aid of its defence under a total Axis siege, resulting in its continued survival despite German and Italian plans to bomb and starve it into submission. During this time the civilian population was evacuated and the Rock was strengthened into a fortress once more. German plans to attack the peninsula were scuttled by Spanish reluctance to allow German troops within its borders.

Currently the United Kingdom utilises Gibraltar to project a 3 nautical mile claim to the strait which is smaller than the maximal potential claim, possibly done to avoid riling up Spanish authorities which despite having legally ceded it several hundred years ago and having no presence since continue to claim it as Spanish territory. Referendums have maintained that over 98% of citizens want to remain British and claims of colonialism are laughable seeing as Spain has major cities (Ceuta and Melilla) plus smaller outposts on the tip of the Moroccan coast, something Rabat staunchly objects to also referring to their colonialist legacies.

While the British claim does not cover the whole strait, even if it did the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea maintains that such waterways should always be for international usage and cannot be claimed by a particular nation. If hypothetically this rule was to be ignored the sizable military presence on the Rock would allow, at least initially, British hegemony over the strait which currently sees around 50% of all seaborne trade in the world. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment garrisons Gibraltar and is the largest British Army presence in the territory, and its RAF base, RAF Gibraltar, is large enough to support fast jets and large transport aircraft. Still, as per its history, Gibraltar’s crowning military presence is its naval facilities at its shore base HMS Rooke which often sees Type-23 anti-submarine frigates and Type-45 air defence destroyers berthed at its port, and has a permanent presence of two smaller patrol vessels which come into frequent altercations with ships of the Spanish authorities and fishermen. Perhaps even more important is its Z-berths, berths built specifically for nuclear submarines which can act as a repair, refuelling, or recreational stop for British and American submarines. The military presence in Gibraltar is also a prominent focal point for British SIGINT (signals intelligence) for the region.

While, despite repeated Spanish intrusions, it is incredibly unlikely that there will ever be another siege of the territory, and equally unlikely that the strait itself will needed to be patrolled in search for lurking U-Boats, the territory of Gibraltar and thus the subsequent control over the Strait of Gibraltar continues to be a vastly important asset to any that control it. It gives the UK territory in mainland Europe and sight of the tumultous North Africa, perhaps something increasingly important as the Refugee Crisis based out of the long Libyan coastline continues to rage. Instability in Tunisia and Algeria, plus the conflict between Morocco and the largely unrecognised Sehwari Arab Democratic Republic to its south continue to see North Africa recognised as a volatile area. British territories in (Greek) Cyprus, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, also benefit from having a British territory and military garrison with extensive aircraft and port facilities mid-way between it and the British mainland. With 21 countries and cities such as Alexandria, Athens, Barcelona, Rome, and Tel Aviv bordering the Mediterranean, the strait will continue to be a site of great geographic, political, and economic importance for centuries to come.


A Brief Analysis On the Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers

As you may know, the Royal Navy has commissioned a new class of aircraft carriers to augment its existing littoral capability provided by vessels such as the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean and to provide force projection on a level that has been unattainable since 2011 and the decommissioning of the last carrier HMS Invincible. What, specifically, are the capabilities and downfalls of the HMS Queen Elizabeth which as of 27/10/2017 is undergoing sea trials and the under construction HMS Prince of Wales?



HMS Queen Elizabeth getting introduced to Portsmouth harbour for the first time.


In the world of aircraft carriers size does, indeed, matter. It is therefore only fitting that the two vessels will be the biggest ships ever commissioned into the Royal Navy in its 471-year history. With a displacement of 70 600 metric tons, a 280m length (over 30 double-decker buses),  and a 39m beam at the waterline, the QE class eclipses any other ship in the Royal Navy arsenal. Currently only two classifications of ship in the world- the American Nimitz class and their replacements the Gerald R. Ford class- have it beat on sheer size. The Charles de Gaulle of France, Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov, and China’s Liaoning and Type 001A all come in at under 55 000 tons without a full load. Its bulk is hefted by conventional diesel engines instead of nuclear power, meaning the Royal Fleet Auxiliary has its work cut out for refuelling, but it also means that no lengthy mid-life refuelling and refurbishment will cut carrier capability for as long as a nuclear-powered vessel, with the Charles de Gaulle needing to be refueled every 7 years in a painstakingly long process.


Thanks to automated technology the crew size is remarkably small for such a vessel standing at under 700 with capacity for 1600. It is planned to carry the F35B Lightning II- the multinational multi-role fighter that will be used by US Marine Corps vessels- designed to be deployed from carriers of a STOVL configuration. STOVL, or Short Take Off  Vertical Landing, does mean a reduced combat load for jets compared to the Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system employed on the largest carriers such as the Nimitz class, but at a significantly lower cost. As the Invincible class of Royal Navy carriers were also STOVL utilising Sea Harriers in conflicts such as the Falklands the Royal Navy does have more solid doctrines based around the deployment of STOVL carriers. Compared to the F35C, F35Bs have a lower tolerance of G-forces, a reduced range, and combat load. Despite well-publicised teething issues the F35 Lighting II in either of its A, B, and C configurations is an advanced multirole fighter with stealth capabilities and state-of-the-art sensors. Due to its stealth configuration it cannot match the payload of aircraft such as the SU-27 of the Russian Air Force without using external hardpoints thus compromising the effectiveness of said stealth capabilities, but extra payload can be externally mounted if necessary.

Each ship is able to carry up to 40 aircraft, with realistically up to 36 being F35s and the other 4 being helicopters for roles such as airborne early warning (AEW). Its regular combat load, however, will be closer to 24 fighters and supporting helicopters and a peacetime loadout being suggested by the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review consisting of closer to 12 F35s. As part of a war load 14 helicopters could accompany the fighters for operations in deeper waters as part of a force protection package consisting of Merlin HM2s on anti-submarine duties and Merlin Crowsnests for AEW purposes. Crowsnests have far smaller effective ranges than the’ E2 Hawkeye turboprop aircraft used by US aircraft carriers but are advanced nevertheless. Alternatively as part of a littoral manoeuvre loadout aimed at supporting amphibious operations a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Air Corps Apache gunships, and Merlins and Wildcats can be used. This is significantly lower than what is typically and what can be carried by their Nimitz counterparts who can carry up to 90 aircraft, but closer to that carried by the de Gaulle and the Chinese carriers when fully operational. Lightning IIs and Merlins are generally the more capable aircraft of the range used in aircraft carriers and due to the QE class’ size and deck configuration they can be launched consecutively very quickly thus increasing sortie rates.

What the ageing Admiral Kuznetsov lacks in traditional aircraft capability (and abilities to reliably move under its own power and receive launched aircraft without them crashing) it makes up some of it in its offensive capabilities. It is technically not a dedicated aircraft carrier such as fielded in the US Navy and as seen in the Queen Elizabeth class and is classed as an aircraft cruiser combining the roles of aircraft carrier and missile cruiser coming armed with 12 feared Granit ship-to-ship missiles. The QE class actually falls behind their international rivals in armament boasting only a handful of 30mm machine guns and Phalanx Close In Weapons Systems (CIWS), but this disadvantage should be negated by proper use of supporting ships such as the anti-air Type-45 destroyers and the anti-submarine Type-23s.


Aircraft carriers around the world vary from Russia’s archaic carrier best used as a missile cruiser, to the pocket carriers of Spain and Italy only suitable for launching Harriers IIs, to the cannibalised Soviet designs employed by China and India. Although many countries- and many potential adversaries- are working on domestically producing an aircraft carrier of indigenous design, few outside North America could match the QE’s class Artisan sensor technology, crew efficiency, and sortie rate estimated to be six times faster than any previous Royal Navy carrier. The Royal Navy’s long past with aircraft carriers should prove a great advantage in the face of the likes of China still working off capable but outdated Soviet design, while the QE class were produced almost entirely in the UK using British shipyards, Rolls Royce gas turbine engines, and Artisan sensors. F35B Lighting IIs are a very new aircraft to the world stage showcasing technology that hasn’t ever been used on such a wide scale and should be more than capable of facing most airborne threats if properly used. Some of the bigger issues aren’t the carriers themselves but whether Royal Navy budgetary restraints will allow them to operate effectively and safely with the necessary support and auxiliary vessels.


The True Tumultuous Tales of the Meatball Man: Vol. 1- The Subway Sage (Part 2)

I was that tanned fellow. I travelled from a distant land, that most would call ‘Milton Keynes’, famed for Fishermead and abnormally high teenage pregnancy. It took me 7 hours to get to Cottingham, East Yorkshire, England. I had to brave a coach journey through Sheffield to be here. Anyone who has ever set foot in Sheffield understands the sacrifice one must take to endure such a journey. The people (much like the buildings), were filthy, run down, poor at holding a conversation and had a different person in them every other night. Why endure the brain cell killing voyage from Milton Keynes to Cottingham, East Yorkshire, England, via Sheffield? Meatballs. You heard me. Meatballs. Pure ecstasy in ball form, covered in mouth-watering, seizure-inducing tomato sauce, gently laid in bread and cheese that was more foreign than I am. Where was this godly sandwich, that (probably) ended wars sold? Subway. The only thing in between me and a sandwich so eye-numbingly perfect that I had to wear two pairs of trousers, were a few of the native Caucasians.

They were so white I can almost smell the Starbucks, sense their inability to comprehend cultures outside their tiny island and see that they ‘can’t even’. Eventually, it was my turn to be served. So there I was. Penis erect. Salivating. After enduring 7 hours and Sheffield, it was finally my time. I’ve been rehearsing my order in front of a mirror for roughly 5 decades now. As soon as I was asked, the all important question, “may I take your order?” I sprung into action. Like a well-oiled machine, I asked for a footlong Meatball Marinara. Things were looking great, I spoke my lines with brilliant diction, there was no need to repeat my order and I was only semi-erect. But then, my meatball shaped world came to a halt. What? Why would it take 5 minutes to cook the meatballs? After what was clearly a hate crime, I composed myself. No longer erect, I asked for Italian B.M.T. But before the words rolled off my tongue, I heard a loud grunt behind. At this point, I believe it’s best to clarify some things. A lot of people claim to have guardians. But none could say that they have seen theirs. But I can. I didn’t believe that these mythical beings existed, yet here I was listening to the grunt of mine. “What do you mean you don’t have any meatballs?” he exclaimed. He pushed in front of me in the line and locked eyes with the managers. He was wearing a grey Adidas Jumper and a black Adidas Tracksuit bottom. His accent, though northern sounding, had more than a hint of chavviness. The manager calmly explained that they had to cook the meatballs to the right temperature otherwise we would all die from salmonella. But nothing was deterring my guardian angel. “I know a manager who got fired for cooking meatballs!” he exclaimed like he was some sort of lawyer. Confused, the manager asked to explain what he meant. Suddenly he rapid fires, what feels like, 1000 words in about 2 seconds. Dazed, the manager asked him to repeat himself but slowly. If anything, he went faster the second time around. How could one man say so much in so little time? About meatballs of all things. Before any of us could process what happened, he disappeared. In tears, I finished my sub, as a changed man.

-BP, RevCol Guest Editor and (alleged) Meatball Man witness.

The True Tumultuous Tales of the Meatball Man: Vol. 1- The Subway Sage (part 1)

Once upon a time, there lived a man. A simple man who lived in a simple house. He was unsure of what clothes people would wear, so he always stuck to a matching Adidas tracksuit, a simple cap, and his prized possession handed down from father to son for umpteen generations- a gold-leafed knight chess piece necklace. He wore them and looked in the mirror, and he saw that it was good. Then he realised he had little money with which to live by, so he went out and got a job at the local meatball factory. He got paid in currency and meatball for his work. He saw his payment and that it was good also.

And then came the dark days. The market crashed and so did the price of meatballs. The meatball manager called all his employees and said “We are nigh finished, thusly we must make many a changes. May all the stars in the heavens forgive me, but I must let you all go. Go free, and prosper”. And so they did go free, but not all prospered. The Meatball Man went and saw that it was not good indeed.

One day the Meatball Man was feeling hungry. He looked around the room for inspiration. There was an armchair, red. There were drapes, maroon. There was a carpet, blue, with golden motes across it. There were seventeen fish flapping about on the floor. “Ah”, he thought. “Fish it is”. He could no longer bear to eat meatballs, or in fact, anything remotely spherical. As he lived in Cottingham, East Yorkshire, England, he had no access to the sea. How would he get fish if they were not in the sea? “Ah”, he thought once more, “I can exchange currency for fish”. And so off he went, leaving his house behind on a trek that would bring glory to the world.

So he trekked, across marshes and fording through rivers and climbing mountains until he came across what was labelled as a “petal state”. There were automobiles drinking water out of hoses and a squat building off to the side. A sign for Subway graced the entrance. Perfect. So he went inside, revealing a sizeable multi-purpose space with a Costa coffee machine, a hot dog machine, a shopping space, and a Subway counter. And so he lined up behind a tanned fellow in the line. Or so the legend goes.

To be Continued…