The violence paradox

It is a fact that the world is less and less violent. So why do we have the feeling that the world is more and more violent, when it is more and more secure?

By Mailys

I. The decline of violence

A. The decline of homicides

The common method to measure violence is to look at the homicide rate- war, murder etc. If you look at the homicide rate over a very, very long period of time, there is a clear trend: a steady decline. This is the observation reached by the economist Max Roser who, in studying the evidence of homicides on the skeletons of 26 archaeological sites, calculated the following rates:

violence paradox

Let’s take the United States and Europe from 1900 to 1960 — during the period of the two World Wars, which together accounted for several tens of millions of deaths. Will this be higher or lower on the graph?

violence paradox graph

Despite their weapons of mass destruction and their world wars, when compared to prehistoric societies, Americans and Europeans of the 20th century seem almost like pacifists…

In tribal societies, where the state was almost non-existent, revenge and self-defence was enacted through  violence.  Gradually, as societies evolved, states built their authority by assuming what is called the monopoly of legitimate violence. It meant that only the state has the right to resort to physical violence .

In his book The Civilization of Morals (“La civilisation des moeurs” in French), sociologist Norbert Elias shows how this control of violence has been gradually internalised by
humans. This is what he called the pacification of manners. In the Middle Ages a knight could kill without remorse or even sometimes without being punished. Little by little, however, this violence has become less socially and legally acceptable. And it is a phenomenon that translates in the figures, as shown by Steven Pinker in his bestseller The Better Angels of our Nature:Better of our nature

If we zoom into the 20th century, the rate of homicides linked to wars is also rapidly declining. Since the end of the Second World War, there has been an unprecedented period of peace, when no great power has entered the war with another great power.

‘In 2016, one is 500 times less likely to die from a homicide than during prehistoric times.’

B. The decline of other violence


Delinquency (excluding homicides) is quite difficult to measure. This is because complaints or convictions are not very reliable indicators. For two reasons:

– Today, people complain more easily for facts that they would previously haven’t even talk about.
– The policy of governments changes according to the time (increase or decrease of the
forces of the order, tightening or softening judicial processes, etc.), which impacts the
number of complaints recorded.

Then to measure this evolution more reliably, we must turn to another tool: victimization surveys. The idea is to interview each year a representative sample of the population on the violence they have suffered in the past year.

The United States (National Crime Victimization Survey) and the United Kingdom (England and Wales Crime Survey) were the first to use these surveys. What we are seeing is that after an increase in violence in the 1970s and 1980s, violence has drastically fallen since the 1990s…

The fact that delinquency is going down has been studied extensively in the United States but not every scientist will totally agrees. There are a lot of factors that come into account such as:
– Increase in Police and Prison Population
– Ageing of the population
– Securing our property
– Development of contraception and legalization of abortion (thesis advanced in the bestseller Freakonomics; the legalization of abortion in the 1970s avoided the birth of unwanted children, who would have been raised in more family difficulties context and therefore potentially more likely to become criminals).

II. Why do we feel that the world is more and more dangerous?

A. Reduced tolerance to violence

When Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the precursors of sociology, visited the United States at the beginning of the 19th century, there was something he did not quite understand. Indeed, at the time, Americans lived in a much more egalitarian and democratic society than Europe.

And yet: they are all very worried about the future. Why?
Here is his analysis:

“In a society, the lower the inequalities, the more intolerable the
remaining inequalities become”

What is the link with violence? Because a lot of sociologists (like Laurent Mucchielli for
instance) say that it is the same with violence. In a global context of pacification and where violence declines, this decline of violence is accompanied by a decrease in tolerance towards violence …

In other words, paradoxically, the more violence is diminished, the more sensitive one is to residual forms of violence… and the less one feels safe. Today, we are much less victims of physical violence but we are much more exposed to violence than in the past (through the news, TV,…). The systematic emphasis of sensitives and violent subjects distorts our perception of the world.

For example, look at these images and ask yourself what do you think is most likely to kill you this year?


B. Terrorism

On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked at home on their territory for the first time in their history.
Where terrorism is scary, it is also that it changes the nature of violence. Before, the violence was perpetrated according to what an individual possessed or did. Terrorism, on the other hand, targets identities: it aims at what one is … and as it is random, one has the impression that it could all touch us.

And yet —
In the UK, over the last 10 years there’s been 1.4 deaths due to terrorism – which, means
you’re more likely to be killed by dog, hot water (100 deaths per year) or using your
phone while driving (2,920 deaths per year).

Indeed, speaking outside Downing Street, Theresa May condemned the London’s attack-
when a group of three terrorists used a van and knives to kill seven and leave dozens more injured – stating that “enough is enough”. But despite this latest attack, relatively few people have been killed by terrorist attacks in the UK in recent years.


In fact, there can be even more dangerous than terrorism: our reaction to the terrorist attacks.


“Terrorism makes relatively few casualties, does not damage the
enemy’s infrastructure, and yet it has maximum impact.” Noah Harari, La Stratégie de la mouche (The Fly Strategy) 

Because in fact, terrorism is like a fly attacking an elephant in a porcelain store. Its means are a little derisory but, if it does well, it can provoke a catastrophic reaction …
In fact, its impact depends less on the damage inflicted objectively than on the way in which people are reacting to it.

C. But why do the media talk so much about violence?

A journalist will never talk about trains arriving on time. They
want a story to tell.

And with our smartphones, we are increasingly exposed to medias, fake news and bad news. According to Mediametrie’s Media in Life study, with the appearance of smartphones, we are 30% more exposed to the media than 10 years ago, with more than 44 contact points per day.

D.Why this feeling of insecurity is dangerous

Because it is a risk of making the world really more violent. Indeed, by believing that our world is more and more violent, one could end up making it really more violent. I don’t known if you have realized, but after the last elections, these are the main leaders of the UN Security Council.hard line

The Children of Syria: Dealing with the Impact of War

By Georgia Marks

On 21 March, Gareth Owen, the Humanitarian Director for Save the Children, came to the Temple of Peace to give a presentation on the impact of the war on the children of Syria. The Chief Executive of the WCIA, Martin Pollard, introduced the event by expressing that the war in Syria is a pressing issue. He then went on to establish Owen’s background in civil engineering and his pivotal role in Save the Children and has been awarded an OBE in 2013 for his work in emergency crisis.

Owen started his presentation by showing us a video about the children of Syria, with statistics of the injuries they have suffered and the effect that the war has had on their mental health. The information in the video was horrifying. Last week marked the sixth anniversary of the Syria conflict, however Owen reiterated that the theme for the presentation was hope. I think this is a really refreshing stance to have because with the all of the horrific news that we hear about the conflict, it is easy to fall into a state of negativity. Also, a sense of positivity will create a more open space for change within Syria.

Owen then described Save the Children’s newest report, ‘Invisible Wounds’, which depicted the impacts that the war in Syria has had on four hundred and fifty Syrian children interviewed and showed the devastating psychological effects of the six year conflict. The study found that the majority of the children interviewed were suffering from toxic stress which can result in the increase of heart disease, drug abuse and mental health issues. The speaker stressed that the most concerning element of this is that the issues in childhood manifest in adulthood, so the effects of the war will resonate forever.

The report found that 71% of the children interviewed suffered from bedwetting, which is a sign of toxic stress. Also, 80% have noticed that they are more aggressive than before the war, and 50% of the older children interviewed have turned to drugs. The children interviewed emphasized that they will never feel safe at school. The statistics given in the presentation have made it clear that the war in Syria is affecting the children in a detrimental way, and I share the opinion of many when I say that we cannot let it continue. This brings me back to the main theme of Owen’s presentation: although the situation in Syria is horrific, there is still time to act, many children can heal, there is still hope.

Sendai Tsunami

The next section of Owen’s presentation asked how Syria got to into this situation. He established a brief history of the situation in Syria; the 15 March 2011 marked the start of the Arab Spring which began in Syria, and the world was terrified that it would spread. Last year marked the record amount of deaths for children. Before the Arab Spring, the population of Syria was around two million, but now half of that number have fled to neighbouring countries and Europe. The speaker went on to establish that those who have stayed behind, including children, are forced to fight work and into young marriage. The situation in Syria was described as a medieval siege like position, using starvation as a way to control the population. There have been 4000 recorded attack on schools, there is a critical need for water and healthcare, and many are living in poverty. This once again reinforces the need to intervene. A member of the audience asked what action was being taken to help children who have been forced to be in the army. The speaker responded by saying that Save the Children will soon be 100 years old. He expressed that the organisation works with factions to stop using children, but Syria is a nation of impunity, with inability to protect the children. Owen emphasized the problem of people forgetting that the United Nations was created to eradicate war. Therefore, Save the Children have taken it upon themselves, as they reach 100, to try and mobilise and change the picture. Another member of the audience questioned how Save the Children prioritises their aid given their scarce resources. The speaker responded by stating that the organisation makes practical choices but they are difficult choices to make. Save the Children always seek to help those who are hardest to reach but that is not always possible; the organisation tries to be impartial and ethical but they cannot always succeed.

Owen then talked about one of his visits to Syria in March 2013. He expressed that he had to have an alias when he visited, which shows how dangerous the country is. The speaker stated that Syria is the most frightening war that he has ever experienced. He then went on to say that the world does not care enough because otherwise we would not allow this to happen. I think that in a sense this is true; there is a feeling of complacency in society right now, if the crisis has not majorly reached our country then we do not feel the urge to act. This is a major problem because we will only make an impact once it is too late. A member of the audience asked how Owen thinks Britain have handled the situation. The speaker replied that we have utterly failed and that the United Nations are not acting to its potential. However, Owen stressed that it is always going to be difficult, but it doesn’t mean that the United Nations isn’t trying.

Owen then went on to provide examples of the positive progress that has been made in Syria, schools have been built and aid had been given, along with psycho-social support. The speaker emphasized that the conflict has meant that the Syrian civil society has to fend for itself to create organisations and work with other countries. This is one of the only positive aspects of the war, and reiterates the theme of the talk of the hopeful attitudes that we should have towards the conflict.

The speaker then went on to discuss the countries that are taking in millions of refugees such as Lebanon and Jordan, and questioned whether Britain is pulling their weight. I think this is a valid question, in comparison with other countries Britain is not taking in that many refugees. This reinforces the point established above that we appear to not care too much unless we are directly affected. In this sense Britain most definitely could make more effort in contributing to help the people of Syria. A member of the audience expressed their concerns with the plight of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and asked whether they are able to take in so many. Owen expressed that politicians respond to the electorate, so in that sense it is in the public’s hands. The speaker then appealed to the young generation, asking how we want our future to be. We need to do something; we need political activism that doesn’t necessarily exist today. We need passion. There are no humanitarian solutions, only political.

The situation in Syria is so horrific, that the way Save the Children tell the children’s stories is so important. A member of the audience asked about the misleading information surrounding Syria and what information can we trust? Owen replied by saying that we live in a culture where facts are disputable, and there is a problem with propaganda and verifying information as a lot of information is propaganda. There is also the issue that the narrative of war is always written by the victor. However, the testimonies of the children cannot be disputed as that is their reality, and it reminds the world that we need to find a solution. The key element to the children’s stories is that of hope. Owen established that the power of hope lives in the refugees, so it is their job at Save the Children to keep the hope alive and help Syrians on a practical level as well.

Owen then showed us the example of Ahmed and the Exodus film and how Britain helped to get his family over to the UK. I found this story refreshing as it shows Britain’s potential to help the people of Syria, and how our aid can have a positive impact. Another video was then shown, a ‘Don’t Bomb Children’ advert which has been televised quite frequently recently, and depicted a British school child being under attack from terrorist forces and having to flee her country. The main message of the video was that just because it isn’t happening here, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care about what is going on in Syria. This video in particular was very powerful in conveying that message. It appears that the shock factor is one of the only ways to get us to respond to the crisis in Syria. This is really disappointing, but at the same time at least we are starting to respond more to the war. The war has spurred responses among well-known figures, Owen exemplified Stephen Hawking’s contribution to Save the Children. Hawking fronted an appeal, giving voices to the children of Syria. I think this is really positive, because if influential figures advocate a more active stance in regards to Syria then hopefully it will encourage others to protest to help Syrian people. The last example Owen depicted was the search and rescue in the Mediterranean, where thousands of refugees drowned attempting to cross the border. The speaker explained that 4700 died in the Mediterranean and 800 of those were children. From all of the examples given, it is clear that we need to take more action to help the people of Syria, as we cannot continue to sit back and let this happen to innocent people.

Owen concluded by talking about the future. There have been talks of safe zones and peace talks which can only be viewed as progress. He went on to express that the price of humanity is whatever it takes to keep the people of Syria alive. According to the speaker, we will be judged harshly in history in terms of how we have helped Syrian people. He ended by asking which side we wanted to be on.

Overall, I found the presentation really insightful and I think it was really effective in motivating the audience. I think we are in a really important period right now which will hopefully influence change in attitudes towards Syria. We need to think positively, but in order for there to be results, we need to take action. There is no doubt that more can be done to help the situation in Syria, and we need to get out of the mind-set that it is someone else’s problem.


A reflection on the positive developments the world has seen in 2016

By David Hooson

 Every year, December encourages us all to look back on the year as it comes to a close. In 2016 perhaps more than ever, upsetting events have dominated and can naturally dominate our memories of the year. However, there were also plenty of positive events this year, as well as things that can give us hope that the world is still progressing towards peace and understanding between all people. Let’s recall just a few of these positive developments.

The Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which was drafted at the end of 2015, was signed in April and came into effect in November. As the most comprehensive international agreement on climate change, with the most international signatories, it has been hailed as a historic step towards tackling the environmental challenges of the future.

The terrorist group Boko Haram, one of the greatest threats to peace and security in West Africa in recent years, was further weakened this year and now appears to be on the brink of total extinction. The January release of 1,000 women held hostage was a big moment, and a further 600 people have been freed in December. The group are still holding many of the Chibok schoolgirls they kidnapped in 2014, but some have been returned to their families throughout this year.

The 52-year conflict in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced, was resolved with a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. Negotiations had been ongoing for four years, and the first draft of the deal was rejected by a referendum in October. However, a revised peace agreement was signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders in November and the Colombian Congress voted to approve the deal. President Santos was also presented with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to his country.

In June, the United Nations’ 47-member Human Rights Council voted to appoint an independent expert on LGBT rights to monitor violence and discrimination against LGBT people globally. Past attempts to make progress on LGBT issues at the UN have been frustrated or defeated by opposition from countries where the law actively discriminates against LGBT people, so this decision represents a significant breakthrough. An attempt to overturn the decision through the UN General Assembly was defeated in November, giving this new role an even more solid basis to campaign for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The Council of Europe’s ‘Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ – known as the Istanbul Convention – was finally ratified by 22 countries, having been signed five years ago. In some of these countries, the Convention is now the strongest protection women have against gender-based violence, sexual violence and domestic abuse. The UK is now in the process of becoming the 23rd country to ratify the Convention.

In stark contrast to divisive media rhetoric and concerning hate crime statistics, refugees from Syria arriving in Wales were warmly welcomed by local communities. The number of refugees allowed into the country is determined by the UK Government, but Local Authorities across Wales have been more than willing to help families and individuals fleeing violence, with refugees being settled all across Wales.

Examples of refugees being welcomed:



There will be many challenges for the international community to address in 2017, some new and some continuing, but stories like these should give us hope that we can and will continue to make progress. Hopefully next year the stories of hope and progress will dominate, and 2017 will keep the world on track towards a peaceful future of justice and equality for all.

The Orlando Mass-Shootings: Homophobia or Terrorism

Megan Griffiths

On the morning of the 12th of June, the world woke up to the news of a mass shooting in a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Another mass shooting. As the death toll in the Orlando shooting has increased to 49 people, debates on homophobia, terrorism and gun control have been stirred up. Mateen’s homophobic and religious motives are not mutually exclusive but entangled, and the events resonate painfully with both recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Ankara and Beirut but also, attacks on gay men and women in New Orleans and London.

In the next few days and weeks, as is the case with every act of violence, messages of solidarity, prayers and love will be sent from all over the world. Yet the range of different controversial issues will no doubt spark debate and will lead to an array of different perceptions of the deeper rooted issues in American society. It’s easy to point the finger towards terrorism, especially considering the inherent American fear of radical Islam. This crime cannot be simply ascribed to being an act of terrorism but as Obama pointed out, also an act of hate. According to Mateen’s father, Mateen became completely enraged when he and his young son saw two men kissing in Miami a few months back, and according to media speculation, it seems his sexuality may be more of a motivation for his actions than his religion. Statistics show that US Muslims are actually more likely to support same sex marriage (42%) than US evangelicals (28%) and are just as likely to support it as general US Christians, suggesting opposition to same sex relationships may not necessarily be a product of any particular religion but of their extremist factions.

T Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted early on Sunday morning a bible verse from Galatians 6:7 ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ The very fact that a prominent political figure can take such an anti-gay stance in such a public way illustrates perfectly the depth of homophobia amongst certain Americans, and how, in some ways, it is actually accepted. A pastor from California gave an impassioned sermon on the shootings, lamenting that “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!” He went on to add that “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” If a member of the Muslim community used these words, they would likely be used as newspaper headlines to inspire shock amongst people. But due to his supposedly ‘Christian’ faith, the effect is not the same. What is more, Trump’s use of the attack to forward his ideas on banning Muslim immigrants shows the extent of his ignorance on the state of his own country. Mateen was born in America. Whilst he undoubtedly had outside influences on his ideology throughout his life, he was also brought up in an American society where there is often some form of negative stigma on being gay. Politicians such as Trump will use the attack to ignore the flaws in society and place the blame on anyone but straight white Americans.

Of course, America has made real progress in legalising same-sex marriage and equality for homosexual and transgender people, and indeed does not see this as a crime unlike some countries around the world. Still, the fact that this took place in a LGBT club, during the national pride month, needs to be observed and we should reflect on the homophobia and transphobia that evidently still exists. We should not become complacent in how far we have come. An attack directly on LGBT people has shattered the security that many people had come to accept and has revealed the deeper roots of hate, prejudice and insecurity that have evidently been bubbling under the surface of society. Through the juxtaposition and intertwining of terrorism and homophobia in this particular case, it is impossible to extract one from the other.

Indeed, to some, it is easier to simply place the blame for his homophobia on his radicalisation. It is easier to continue our debates on ISIS and terrorism strategies than also consider our attitudes to gays and lesbians, often a slightly taboo subject at the best of times. Owen Jones’ reaction live on air on Sky News shows just how sensitive the situation is and how people’s perceptions of the attack differ. But this totally ignores the fact that Mateen was brought up in America and was therefore exposed to home-grown ignorance and anti-LGBT rhetoric in American society and government which itself leads to marginalisation and violence against the community on a day-to-day basis. He may be Muslim, but is this actually relevant when we consider how anti-LGBT policies are a fundamental mainstream in many parts of America, regardless of faith.

It would be interesting to ask ourselves if the dialogue surrounding the shootings would be different if Mateen was not a seemingly radicalised Muslim, but an anti-gay Christian acting in the name of God. Where does the fact that, completely aside from his faith, he is cited to be a violent and perhaps mentally unstable individual fit in? Would the event have taken on the shape of a less high-profile hate crime? Or merely another mass shooting? By solely labelling it as a ‘terrorist attack’ and linking it to ISIS, it inspires a specific response in us due to recent events attributed to ISIS. The fact that homophobia is not exclusive to a single religion or belief system means that we cannot allow ourselves to simply focus on this as an ISIS inspired terrorist attack. Much focus has been placed on the fact that the attack marks the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11 yet it is also the largest targeted attack on the LGBT community since the holocaust.

Increasing acts of terrorism around the globe, coupled with the European refugee crisis, have led to general negative shifts in attitudes towards immigrants and often, islamophobia, ordinary peaceful Muslims are tarred with the same brush as radicalised extremists, leading to ill-conceived fears of Islam itself. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US and the rise of right wing movements in Europe have led to a general increase in ‘hatemongering’. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein warned that ‘Hate is becoming mainstreamed’. We cannot afford to allow this latest attack to inspire yet more hatred and fear by using Mateen’s Muslim faith as a scapegoat and exploit his faith to forward political agendas on terrorism. To do so blatantly ignores the cracks in tolerance and acceptance within our society and towards the LGBT community. Homophobia, Transphobia and Islamophobia all come together under the same umbrella of hatred and it is not until we have dismantled them all that we can be completely peaceful.

The shows of humanity in Orlando as people go out of their way to help and the messages of solidarity and vigils for the victims and the LGBT community held all over the world show us that love can indeed win. But love will only win if we don’t allow tragedies like this to inspire yet more hatred towards other innocent people. We owe it to the 49 individuals who lost their lives and their families.


Multiculturalism: facilitating unity, not division

Elise Rietveld

Extreme irregularities only divert our attention away from the strengths of multiculturalism, which has helped us a lot  over the decades

Extreme irregularities only divert our attention away from the strengths of multiculturalism, which has helped us a lot over the decades

Leading figures in academia, politics and the media, including British Prime-Minister David Cameron, have accused multiculturalism of being divisive. But closer inspection shows that actually, it offers the most coherent way of reconciling unity, equality and diversity in multicultural societies.

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A good enough alliance?

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center right, speaks during a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels June 4, 2013. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other NATO leadership attended the meeting. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Released)

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center right, speaks during a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels June 4, 2013. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other NATO leadership attended the meeting. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Released)

To read some of the press around the NATO Summit earlier this week, you would think that Wales was about to host either a giant traffic jam or the world’s biggest trade fair. Not entirely unfairly, social media was abuzz with the sheer awkwardness of it all, and the Guardian chose to follow suit with the headline “Newport locals unimpressed as world leaders arrive in Wales”. Elsewhere, there has been a jaunty ‘sell Wales’ angle, with trade deals, tourism and the nation’s general standing in the world all apparently set to soar in the wake of 60-odd world leaders barricading themselves behind a steel fence in a hotel off the M4.

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Better late than never: Britain goes to outer space


“We’ve got to have this… I don’t mind for myself, but I don’t want any other Foreign Secretary of this country to be talked at, or to, by the Secretary of State in the United States as I just have with Mr Byrnes. We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.” – Ernest Bevin, 1946[1]

In April 2014, to little fanfare, the British Government released its first ever National Space Security Policy (NSSP). This document is the first official and publicly accessible statement of intent from the British Government on activities in outer space with regard to defence and security planning. What gained more traction on release, and more recently in debates over Scottish separatism, was the ‘Space Growth Action Plan’, and more specifically, the fantastical and glamorous visions of air-launch capabilities for micro-satellites and sub-orbital tourism. Despite some well-earned success stories, Britain as a state is lagging behind much of the rest of Earth’s developed countries in terms of publicly visible state policies and programs for outer space across the military, intelligence, commercial, diplomatic, and scientific sectors.

After decades of ignoring outer space, the British state is beginning, at least officially, to understand the mundane, every day, but lucrative values of outer space activities across the board.[2] Popular consciousness has a long way to go, however. Space tourism is a fashionable zeitgeist that is not representative of where the lion’s share of the money and resources of the global space sector goes. Most of the uses of outer space, in value and volume, are in telecommunications, missile detection and early warning, weather satellites, and navigation systems. These systems have military and civilian applications – what is called dual-use. Our financial systems use satellites to verify time on transactions – large or small. Aircraft use satellite navigation to land precisely in difficult conditions. Without space systems our ‘just-in-time’ economy will grind to a halt before it can revert to the pre-satellite way of doing things. Outer space has become so integral to our modern economy it is startling how little of everyday space activity in orbit is known. Popular images of space still rely on fantastical, but practically irrelevant,[3] nostalgia of the Apollo missions and manned exploration of other worlds. When governments speak of investing in ‘space’, it is often a matter of creating competitive rockets for the global satellite launch market (as in SpaceX or France’s case), or making better satellites and space services (as in Britain’s case), or developing national economic development through having reliable access to data on natural resources (such as in Nigeria’s case) and other economically profitable data.

Military space issues, sometimes referred to under the guise of ‘space security’,[4] reach the headlines from time to time. However, it is usually on the premise of state officials trading accusations that someone is threatening the world with ‘militarising’ space or in researching practically useless space-based weapons.[5] Outer space was a military realm from the start of human activity above the atmosphere. The United States and the Soviet Union pursued rocket and satellite technologies in the 1950s to be able to more effectively rain nuclear fire upon each other and to develop satellites that could locate each other’s key facilities and nuclear forces to provide more accurate targeting data for strategic bombers. Space science missions were dovetailed to the military and propaganda competition between the two superpowers, whilst using idealistic notions of the uses of outer space for ‘peaceful purposes’ as a useful ruse to accuse the other side of being ‘needlessly’ militaristic.[6]

In essence, not much has changed. Declarations and public diplomacy statements made by officials that a particular country is ‘militarising’ space are rhetorical devices designed to mislead a space-uneducated audience to rally support for a state’s own military space policies.[7] Space has always been militarised since humans began using it, and shows no sign of changing course. Earth’s major military powers continue to invest heavily in space systems for military modernisation and spying purposes, or purposes that are inherently dual-use, whilst paying lip-service to using space for peaceful purposes. Space-based weapons take centre stage at stalled propagandistic and turgid discussions on space arms control at the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament. Ultimately, space-based weapons are a remote possibility and distract attention from existing space warfare methods, as reflected in the NSSP’s refusal to discuss the topic, whilst listing the already existing ways that countries have to wage space warfare on each other without space-based weapons.

Many countries’ policies and activities demonstrate remarkable hypocrisy in their supposed belief that space should be used for ‘peaceful purposes’[8] whilst continuing to invest in necessary militarily-useful space systems.[9] Britain can now be added to that list because of the NSSP[10] – bringing into line with common strategic wisdom that British space dependence necessitates British awareness of how to handle threats to its space sector.

The NSSP is long overdue. The United States, China, Australia, France, and Russia have long published official policy documents or strategic plans for their uses of outer space, be it military or civilian, or both. In itself, the NSSP is unremarkable. However, in its context, the NSSP is a watershed for specialists interested in the UK’s role in outer space activities. UK military publications have appeared irregularly about outer space and the dangers the UK may face on account of unintentional and intentional threats to the space systems it depends upon. But now there is official recognition from the British Government that there are areas where the Britain needs to do more to capitalise on potential profits from the global space economy and to address and minimise the risks to the space systems the British state relies upon.

British space activity has not been non-existent prior to recent policy releases. The British military has used the Skynet communications satellite constellation for a few decades to provide the most essential satellite communications to deployed forces around the globe. However, Britain has to depend on commercial and allied satellite communications services for most other uses – including for its armed forces’ navigations and precision munitions. In the past few years, we have seen a core of official documents and activities come together – such as the consolidation of Government and industry’s links into the UK Space Agency. The UK Military Space Primer, and the latest UK Air and Space Doctrine, to show greater official-level awareness within the military about the uses of outer space. These two more recent documents shows the rest of the Government beginning to realise the role Government can play in pushing the already-vibrant and globally attractive British space sector.

Whilst the British state is a pygmy in space, it has room to grow with its high-tech manufacturing base. Economic space activity in Britain has performed well under what could be seen as benign neglect. Astrium makes satellites in Stevenage for many major European projects – including for the European Space Agency’s Galileo navigation system.  Surrey Satellites is a world leader in small satellite design and manufacturing. London is home to Inmarsat, a major maritime satellite communications provider. Numerous smaller companies manufacture parts and components for the global space industry. University departments develop new satellites and services for testing and possible market releases for a world that demands ever more space-based services and data. ‘Commercial space’ is another fashionable idea – but most demand for space services and data, globally, come from the Government sector. Furthermore, space tourism is expected to remain a marginal aspect of the commercial aspects of space activity.

However, Britain still has to enact a United Nations mechanism for the release of space-based imaging and sensing data in times of national emergency or disaster, like it did in the winter of 2013-2014 to be able to better co-ordinate rescue services and emergency responders, as Britain had no national capability to get such information, while many other states do, including Britain’s European peers. As parts of Britain lay underwater or in tatters from coastal storms and exceptional flooding, the UK government had to either buy essential satellite data or rely on the good will of other states and corporations.

Taxpayers and leaders across the world, not only in Britain, need more information on how space services have modernised the world economy – and India’s usual high praise for the economic development potential of outer space systems is not idle talk. The world’s publics need to go beyond the popular conceptions of space activity as American footsteps on the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The most important and consequential things to happen in human space activity thus far have been when our satellites began to look back down on Earth and provide troves of useful data – for both military and civilian purposes – or when space is used as a medium through which threatened nuclear war may be delivered.

Finally, the UK Government has recognised that the regions and devolved countries can take an active role in outer space. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can take part in space activities, especially when considering the potentials for economic development with space services. For example, rural police services benefit greatly from space-based data, especially when managing field units with navigation systems and tracking and managing unmanned aerial vehicles. Agriculture, too, has a potential benefit from consistent and timely space-based remote sensing data, which is of obvious value beyond the centre of gravity of London. A high-tech economy, as we know it, needs space systems. Size does not matter as much when it comes to purchasing space-derived data or manufacturing and operating satellites – other countries and companies will launch a satellite for a fee.

Small European countries can target their niche capabilities in space into a collective effort at the European Space Agency, as well as into economic development plans suited for home. A Welsh or Scottish space economy development plan based on creating a locally taxable space sector to provide services and business to agriculture, tourism, hi-tech manufacturing, and resource management[11] is not ungrounded when targeted in conjunction with wider economic plans. However, a spaceport plan based on unproven concepts – either technologically (e.g. the Skylon spaceplane) or economically (e.g. Virgin’s space tourism and air-launched microsatellites) – should be seen as a more risky endeavour. However, more risky endeavours tend to have much larger potential rewards – both economically and politically, in a land threatening secession.

It seems that the British state has realised that there’s more to outer space than planetary exploration and manned flight; that it isn’t an expensive folly for the biggest states on Earth. It wants a space sector “with the bloody Union Jack on it.”[12] Better late than never.

bleddBleddyn E. Bowen is a doctoral candidate at the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University. His doctoral thesis examines space warfare and strategic thinking about outer space. His general research interests include the politics of outer space, the military uses of outer space, military history, military theory and philosophy, maritime strategy, nuclear weapons, and geopolitics. Twitter: @bleddb


[1] The Foreign Secretary at the time, referring to the atomic bomb in frustration at the American decision to exclude Britain from previously cooperative nuclear weapons research in 1946. Taken from: Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 (London: Penguin, 2010) pp. 50-51
[2] Meaning military, economic, scientific, and political-
[3] This does not discount the merits of arguments for human exploration of outer space – merely an observation on the highest priorities of governments in space budgets.
[4] On a discussion of the various meanings of ‘space security’ and its consequences, see: Bleddyn E. Bowen, ‘Cascading Crises: Orbital Debris and the Widening of Space Security’, Astropolitics: The International Journal of Space Politics and Policy (12:1, 2014)
[5] The technologies that would make space-based weapons practical are not likely to arrive in the foreseeable future, and are easily circumvented by already-existing weapons based on Earth to achieve the same effects – what the NSSP refers to as ‘counterspace’. This means the targeting of satellites with missiles, lasers, jamming and cyber intrusions that are based on Earth.
[6] See the entirety of: Walter McDougall, …The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997)
[7] A case in point is Xi Jinping’s comments on the rationales behind Chinese military space policy: Ben Blanchard, ‘China’s President Xi urges greater military use of space’. Reuters, 15 April 2014, (accessed 21/04/2014)
[8] Note that, in practice, most countries adhere to the American definition of ‘peaceful purposes’ to mean non-aggressive, allowing military space systems to be deployed.
[9] See: The White House, United States National Space Policy, Washington, D.C., June 28 2010. Available at:; The White House, National Security Strategy, Washington, D.C., May 2010, p. 31. Available at:; United States Department of Defense, ‘National Security Space Strategy: Unclassified Summary’, January 2011, Washington, D.C., p. 1. Available at:  (accessed 21/04/2014); French Government, ‘The French White Paper on defence and national security’, Paris, 2008,  Sections 12, 13, 14. Available at:; French Government, ‘French White Paper: Defence and National Security 2013’, Paris, 2013,  pp. 44, 70, 81, 118. Available at:; Australian Department of Defence, ‘Defence White Paper 2013’, Canberra, 2013, p. 15, 24; Australian Government, ‘Australia’s Satellite Utilisation Policy’, Canberra, 16 April 2013, pp. 12-15, 18-19; Chinese Government, ‘China’s National Defense in 2010’, Beijing, 2010, Chapter X, (accessed 23/4/2014); Chinese Government, ‘China’s National…’ Chapter III, (accessed 23/4/2013); Jana Honkova, ‘The Russian Federation’s Approach To Military Space and Its Military Space Capabilities’, Policy Outlook, November 2013, George C. Marshall Institute, esp. pp. 5-9
[10] HM Government, UKSA/13/1292, ‘National Space Security Policy’, London, April 2014, esp. pp. 5-10
[11] Including wind, tidal, minerals, water.
[12] Devolved economic and science activities encroaching on the UK space sector may cause some symbolic issues with Celtic flags in space.