The Cyprus cash airdrop is just another military contingency plan

RAF air-lifted in one million Euros in cash.

A drop in salary took on a whole new meaning for members of the British Armed Forces deployed in Cyprus, when the RAF air-lifted in a million Euros in cash.

The emergency measures were designed to ensure troops don’t run out of cash if cash machines empty, as banks are closed until Thursday in the aftermath of a controversial plan for a one-off levy on savings, which has since been rejected by the Cypriot government.

Is it usual for British service personnel deployed abroad to be paid in local currency, and does the Ministry of Defence (MoD) regularly have to deal with the dramatic local effects of an increasingly destabilised global economy?

An MoD spokesperson said that the way soldiers are paid is up to them. Generally, for European deployments to permanent bases such as in Cyprus or Germany, personnel choose to have the majority of their wages paid into their regular UK bank account, with some “spending money” paid into local accounts in Euros.

In the case of mid-term operating bases, a unique local micro economy can spring up. At Camp Bastion, the pound can be exchanged at a favourable rate with the local currency the afghani, and Bastion shops and food outlets deal seamlessly with Euros, US dollars and pounds.

Locals are encouraged to set up shops and stalls in the camp to sell local craft mementoes and gifts, and are very keen to get their hands on dollars, the de facto universal currency. However, with the Danish military working closely with Afghanis to deliver training, the Euro is catching up in desirability.

For short-term operations like Libya with no in-country base, the MoD makes no local financial arrangements.

With the global economy struggling and the banking system of some countries teetering on the verge of collapse, does the MoD have a regular plan in place to ensure at least the military economy continues to thrive?

“Not really,” says the MoD spokesperson. “It’s the job of the MoD to react to a rapid change in any situation with a contingency plan, and the potential shortage of cash in Cyprus is just another example.”

This blog first appeared here.

Photograph: Getty Images

Berenice Baker is Defence Editor at Strategic Defence Intelligence.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.