Bleeding Blue

Bleeding Blue

Amidst a lack of public confidence in UN Peacekeepers globally, I assess their current status and future within a world of growing instability. 

According to the United Nations Peacekeeping Report for 2015, the largest contributors of peacekeepers were Bangladesh (9432), Ethiopia (8309), India (7794), Pakistan (7533), and Rwanda (5591). The first recognised ‘Western’ state comes in place 26, with Italy contributing 1126 people. Shockingly, western states have troop contributions that lag far, far behind their apparent impact on the world, in the terms of economy, global reach and military resources. In 53rd place sits the United Kingdom, contributing just 288 troops, whilst somewhat incredibly, the United States languishes in 76th place, with just 80 American troops deployed under the flag of the UN. Considering the military footprint of this nations in recent conflicts, some of which have cause major regional destabilisation (Iraq), this is a truly mindboggling fact, and not in a good way. Economically, however, it is another story, with the USA footing nearly 25% of the bill for UN Peacekeeping globally, and other western states making major contributions. Historically, Canada, the USA and other Western nations were much more prominent troop contributors to UN Peacekeeping. US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, noted that European commitments used to account for 40% of UN Peacekeeping contributions, and this has now fallen to a paltry 7%.

Excel Chart B

What do those numbers represent, though? Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Rwanda are not known for their military prowess, nor for their economic might, and yet they are the leading troop contributors. India is a future global superpower and thus their position on this list is logical, as they seek to be seen as a ‘responsible citizen’ of the global community. Pakistan is contributing a huge number of troops despite already fighting a major conflict on their home soil, in regions such as Waziristan (It is also worth noting that Pakistan’s major role in UN operations in Somalia was completely ignored by Hollywood in the blockbuster ‘Black Hawk Down’, causing a political furore). Each of these nation’s commitment should not be derided however, and should be lauded for incredible contribution that is, showing that economic development is not a barrier to contributing to global peacekeeping. This a very noble notion that other states should certainly be looking at as laying down a marker for the future.Excel Chart A

The United Nations peacekeeping forces are struggling, however, in some parts of the world. Troops trained to patrol towns and cities as a deterrent are faced with brutal asymmetric warfare in areas such as Mali and South Sudan, something they are simply not equipped for. Whereas soldiers from more economically developed countries can often rely on technical superiority on the battlefield, troops from Bangladesh, for example, are to an extent fighting on a level playing field, with the same Kalashnikov series of rifles, placing more troops at risk. With some missions becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous, it is essential that troops from some of the world’s elite militaries are deployed alongside other UN counterparts in order to help break the deadlock. The troops are supposed to be able to prevent death, and be ‘Peacekeepers’, but at the moment it is questionable whether this is being achieved. Additional technical support from helicopters in particular is badly needed.

UN Death

Year on year, a familiar scandal sullies the name of the UN Peacekeeping brand, that of sex scandals. This is something that every nation recognises is an issue, and every nation appears keen to take decisive measures to stamp it out, however it keeps occurring. This issue is a thorn in the side within the battle for local hearts and minds. It is easy to assume that this is simply due to the stationed forces being undisciplined, and that it is limited to soldiers from poorer countries, however this is not the case. Venezuelan forces have gathered a particularly bad reputation for such issues, but even the French military has recently had serious issues in this area. See recent child sex claims in Burkina Faso, or the current child-sex-for-food scandal in the Central African Republic, both of which appear to be heinous crimes. There seems to be a level of inevitability around the international attitude towards the Peacekeeper’s long documented sex issues, yet the damage each scandal does to the UN Peackeeper ‘brand’ both internationally and within the host country cannot be underestimated. It is very easy for local public opinion to turn against you after a sex scandal is announced, and a national perception of doing more harm than good is a poisonous thing indeed. Amazingly, despite the evidence, few prosecutions regarding such matters tend to occur, something that has to sop in my opinion. If a soldier of your country abuses their position and thus commits a sexual crime, or any crime for that matter, then is must be investigated. If evidence is found, they must be prosecuted, either in their home country or by the host country. If it is illegal at home, the soldiers should not be doing it in the very nation they are trying to protect. Gita Sahgal, an influential activist, has said previously that “The issue with the UN is that peacekeeping operations unfortunately seem to be doing the same thing that other militaries do. Even the guardians have to be guarded’, and this still rings true some years later. Whether the United Nations Peacekeepers should be blamed as an entity for such issues, or the contributing country of the accused troops, is another matter.

Rwanda UN
A Zambian Peacekeeper surveys the scene at a refugee camp after the Rwandan Genocide.

The reputation of the UN is tainted by 2 very well-known failures of their peacekeeping operations, formerly in Rwanda, 1994/5, and latterly in Bosnia in 1995, with the infamous Srebrenica massacre. These two events shocked the world, and marked the lowest ebb of peacekeeping efforts since the foundation of the United Nations. The Rwandan Genocide was probably not entirely preventable, however many hundreds of thousands of deaths were. The failure of countries of the United Nations Security Council to commit troops to General Dallaire’s task force was a devastating failure of the United Nations to support its core principles, and it is a spectre that continues to dog the region to this date. Bosnia was a similarly shocking failure, this time more military than bureaucratic, to protect civilians within a dedicated safe zone due at least in part to the incompetent actions of the Dutch Battalion. Twenty years on from these two horrific tragedies, and the world has still not moved on. Any argument relating to UN peacekeeping evokes Rwanda and Bosnia, and therefore the Peacekeeping efforts- many of which have been successful- are forever unacknowledged, lying in the shadow of two terrible genocides. Perhaps this is right; but how can UN Peacekeeping ever been seen as successful without slowly disentangling the three? Whilst retaining those past dreadful experiences, and learning from them, it must be time to move on. It must be time to move forward, especially as regional instability is currently a major threat.

African UN

Thankfully, some changes are occurring. This week saw a major meeting of the United Nations general assembly, and a US-led push for more troop commitments from European countries has met with some success. The United States seems to be supporting a strong UN Peacekeeping mandate once again, something that harks back to the heady days of Clinton when he suggested that the UN should have its own army. This is a time of increasing instability, with major recent military-related crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia coming to mind. The spread of the Islamic State ideology in Northern Africa (Libya in particular) is of significant concern, whilst the scourge of Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabaab are all major regional if not global threats. In such a time of risk, it follows that a strong United Nations is a valuable one, and efforts are now being made to ensure that this is the case, unlike in the 1990s. The UN Peacekeeping forces need the numbers, the expertise and the equipment in order to be fully effective, and for what might be the first time, the world will see the UN as a truly capable fighting force. Whether this remains to be followed properly by the lumbering bureaucracy of the UN itself remains to be seen, but at least steps are being taken to radically change their efforts in order to equip them properly to respond to future crises.UN

In the final few years of his presidency, President Obama’s persistent petitioning of nations to contribute more troops looks to be paying dividends, with TIME reporting that some 40,000 new troops are to be added to the existing ‘pool’ (http://time.com/4053412/united-nations-peacekeeping-forces/). With 125,000 peacekeepers currently deployed globally, this represents, in real terms, a 32% increase in manpower. This is a very impressive figure, and bodes well for future. In securing an increase of this scale, bringing overall peacekeeper numbers up to 165,000 men, Obama has not only increased the capacity of the UN but also the relevancy and pressure upon it. With a 32% increase, nations will be looking for a more successful period of peacekeeping with actual positive results, and an unintended consequence could be more pressure for intervention due to the suddenly increased capacity for such operations. Within this 40,000 troops comes a major commitment of an additional 8000 for a ‘Standby Police Force’ from China (and a significant economic contribution to boot), 2700 troops from Indonesia and a doubling of the USA’s meagre 78 men. European contributions were once again scarce, however the UK committed to sending 80 men to Somalia and a more impressive 280-300 to the Central African Republic. Some 40 more helicopters are also due to be committed by a number of nations, which are essential to UN operations and will hopefully lead to an increase in capability. With the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was somewhat inevitable that UN contributions would increase, and I thus I suspect that Obama will be a little disappointed in the relatively small scale commitments from Europe, regardless.

Sergio
The late, great, Sergio Vieira de Mello. A hero and an inspiration to many, including myself.

I have written this blog in a period of deteriorating international security, with numerous previously mentioned threats underpinning the need for a much stronger United Nations on a global level. I believe that the 32% rise in contributions represents a renewed belief in the importance of the United Nations, and this in itself is arguably long overdue. This is best explained, in my opinion, by a quote from the inspirational Sergio Vieira de Mello, a leading light of the United Nations until his tragic death in a car bomb in Iraq, 2003. In his biography, compiled by the previously mentioned Samantha Power, de Mello is quoted as saying ‘The one thing you have to remember, is that the major powers will kick the UN. They’ll scream at the UN. But at the end of the day, they are getting the UN that they want and that they deserve. If the United States and Europe wanted a muscular peacekeeping operation here (Serbia), they would insist on adding muscle. If they really wanted to stop the Serbs, they would have done so long ago’. To this end, the international attitude is changing. Member states evidently do wish to prevent outbreaks of violence that threaten so many lives, and are willing to put their soldiers under the blue flag of the UN once again.

UN Rwanda
The UNAMIR headquarters in Rwanda where numerous Belgian Peacekeepers were deliberately killed during the genocide.

Ultimately, for all it’s faults, faith has been put in the United Nations both economically and in terms of manpower increases in order to ensure that is prepared and able to react to today’s growing number of issues. There must be no second mistakes- no Rwandas and no Sbrenicas, and there should not be a similar event again due to the vast increases in resources. Sex scandals will not disappear, and peacekeeping mandates and the rules of engagement will no doubt be as vague as ever, but it is evident that lessons have been learned. These lessons will be employed and the UN should, or rather must do better this time around. In a period of media and public derision at the role of the UN, perceived as useless by some, they have received a huge vote of confidence from member states. The blue helmets will stand back on their parapets to protect people the world over with renewed vigour, risking their lives for the good of mankind. Make no mistake about it, some of these ‘few good men’ will bleed. The colour of their blood however, will be blue.

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Back to University: Week 1 Review

After a year out of university due to illness, I finally returned this week to start second year afresh.

With most of my lecturers (and old friends)  out in California and New York on a field trip, my first week back was decidedly bereft of lectures themselves, with only 3 actually taking place! All the modules were new though, and I’m suprisingly satisifed with my module choices. I had assumed that I would change one of my modules to a politics equivalent, however having tried my two likely drop-options, this is now unlikely to happen. Evolution of Human Societies looks like a brilliant module, and I am so glad that I have taken it. To me, it seems like we are being taught the essence of Jared Diamond’s brilliant, seminal, Guns Germs and Steel, but with the latest developments that have occurred in the intervening years included. Assuming my fellow peers are also aiming to help tackle some of the global issues facing the world today, this module should provide an excellent grounding in a fascinating, vital part of human development.

The Politics of Climate Change and Energy is another good module it seems, and whilst it was my most likely module to drop, I’ve really taken to the style of teaching employed by the lecturer. It is a big class, with around 70-odd students it seems, and thus it might be a bit harder to make my work stand-out. The assessment methods for this module are great though; 3 blogs combined to make 2000 words, a concept map and some Policy Analysis. I’ve done some policy analysis before, thankfully, the blogs should be my ‘bankable’ marks (I hope at least), and the concept map is something completely new. I’m more excited about the concept map than the others though because it looks like a really good way of detangling complex issues, such as Perhentian Islands Development or some defence analysis on Central Africa. Ideal.

The work will kick off in earnest next week, however this week has been a really nice induction back in to the swing of university life. I had a meeting with a departmental figure to officially say hello and plan for any future illness, which was lovely, and have spent most of the week in the library reading about Islands Biogeography. I’ve honestly learnt so much in such a short space of time, it really must be something about the university atmosphere and experience. Being back at university does feel like a great big safety net has been thrown over me again, and I think this is perhaps part of the undergraduate experience. Having spent time out of university, I learnt life skills that my course simply wouldn’t have taught me, and I guess I have sympathies with the people I have spoken to recently who have said that the graduates they have employed in the past have been hopeless – not because they don’t know how to do their jobs, but because they lack basic life skills to get them through the week.

I ended the week on Gylly Beach late at night, watching the supermoon and the stars glisten over a calm sea, as a fire crackled in front of me and some of my closest friends.

A lovely, calm start to the semester, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in properly. I’ve done my reading, I’ve planned a couple of my climate change blog posts, I’ve got loads of Malaysia plans in the works, and I’ve nearly finished the Perhentian Ecology website.

Roll on week 2! P1150243

Climate Change and Energy

Climate Change represents the most significant challenge to global survival for hundreds of years, and Geography is at the very forefront of that fight. This page will contain a short series of blogs tackling current issues in Climate Change and Energy, partly for a University Module but also out my own general interests.

Polar Bear

Blog 1: Why the Downfall of Tony Abbott is a (Very) Good Thing

Blog 2: Volkswagen’s Shocking Fraud and Climate Change Politics

I went shooting. And I totally get it.

At the start of Freshers I thought that you know what, I’m going to try something new this time around. I fancied a non-threatening step out of my comfort zone. Ultimate frisbee was my first pick, but the rain was quite threatening and didn’t want to get wet, which ruled that out. I considered sailing or kayaking but remembered that the sea is absolutely bloody freezing over here (though it is at its warmest right now), but my fun-to-chance-of-drowning ratio was unacceptably high. When I saw an FXU Rifle Club taster day coming up, I figured that this might be my last chance to do something quite different. Rifle 1

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had the ‘army phase’. I did the occasional air rifle shooting, and tried the strange sport of airsoft for quite a while, before deciding both were a bit infantile. Despite living in the middle of rural Warwickshire, surrounded by rolling farms and being close to quite a few estates, I somehow missed the traditional rural rites of clay pigeon shooting. Perhaps that was a blessing… The FXU Rifle Club promised something very different. Actual rifles. Real bullets. Everybody fancies themselves as a marksman, right?

I agreed to go and paid my notional £11, and we soon had a quiet, awkward motley crew of students in the back of the minibus… and 2 friendly FXU staff members! I don’t know if being quiet and awkward is a prerequisite of going shooting? I guess you aren’t supposed to be visibly happy about it, as people might get the wrong idea. Upon arrival at Truro Rifle Club, we had a considerable safety induction to ensure that we all knew how to shoot and handle the rifles safety, ran over the club rules and discussed the future of the club. It struck me that the rifle club seemed to want some new blood, so to speak. The club is set in what looks like an old quarry, providing the steep protective banks which are a necessity so you don’t end up killing people in the local area. A lot of rifle clubs I have seen tend to be set in old quarries, and there certainly isn’t a shortage of quarries Rifle 2in Cornwall! The 15 of us were split into smaller groups of 5, and whilst one group was shooting, the other got to view the facilities. There is a much longer 50 metre range, which looked like an incredibly long distance away, especially without the use of a scope. Apparently iron sights are the name of the day.

When it was finally my go, a lot of things were going through my head. I was definitely nervous and there was a child-like anticipation about what I was going to do. This was new territory, and slightly taboo territory at that in modern British society. The guns were locked on a shelf on a wall, and you had to unlock them and then place them on the floor next to your firing point. With a red flag locked in the breech, it was completely and utterly safe. Lying down next to them, I was struck both by how light the rifles were in comparison to their look of wood and ironmongery, and also how different they were to anything I had handled in the past. Previously I had been used to the rugged, hard lines of airsoft assault rifles and the ergonomic, almost attractive lines of air rifles, but these were a different beast entirely, made completely for accuracy from the ground up. I wouldn’t say they were attractive, but they felt comfortable in the hand.

Lying prone, with the barrel of my rifle resting upon a little stand and with the stock comfortably rested in my shoulder, I removed the red flag from the breech and inspected the tiny little .22 bullets for the first time. They really are quite small, but there is no doubt that they could do some serious damage in the wrong hands. I pushed the bullet forward into the breech, cycled the bolt firmly forward and for the first time I had a live rifle in my hands. The iron sights took a little getting used to, as they were quite basic and far detached from the luxuries of scopes that I had enjoyed in the past. The premise is that you line the black centre of the target with the middle of your sight so that there is an equal space between the sides of the target and your sight. If it is equal on all sides of the target, then theoretically it will e heading towards the bull. We were allowed 5 shots on each target, and 10 shots in total for each round of shooting.

The first shot was an experience. A loud crack resonated through the ear protectorRifle 3s, the tiniest little kick in my shoulder, and a thwack at the other end told me all I needed to know. There was a huge mental rush and then a wave of focus as I tried to get the next shot in the right place. I couldn’t see what my shooting looked like, but for the next 5 shots I was feeling more in tune with the rifle. I held myself perfectly still, regulated my breathing properly and truly, truly focused. The next 5 shots went by in a blur. We made the guns safe, and then walked down the range to inspect our targets. My first grouping was a little ropey, but my second featured 3 shots in the bull, and two one band away. Pretty bloody good for my first time. Needless to say, I was quietly thrilled with my efforts, and proceeded to try not to look to happy in front of everyone for the next few minutes while I awaited my turn again. Instead I engaged Rob Gofton on cricket and what the FXU is up to this year… I keep forgetting that you should probably avoid talking about work when someone is away from their day job! Sorry Rob!

For the second round of shots I tried to be even calmer still, and focused incredibly hard. I tried to relax as advised but with a live rifle in my hands, I found that considerably easier said than done. Having adjusted my sights to my coach’s suggestions, I sent the first 5 down range in quick succession, and he said that they were good and then told me to adjust my sights again… Back to exactly how they were the first time around. Muppet. The next 4 shots felt very good, and I knew I must be close to what I was aiming for by my coach’s occasional expressions of interest in my shooting. He seemed to be cut of the ‘You earn respect’ generation but in this instance it was definitely a good thing. I liked his style. Anyway, I sent my fifth shot down range and he gave me a satisfied indication of my performance.

Again, we made the guns safe, and we checked out targets. My first 5 were a little high and to the left, but both groupings were really quite tight. When there are no individual holes, because the bullets have hit so closely together that it looks like one larger hole, you must have done something right! We got to keep our targets, and enthused at the thought of finding a new sport, we headed to back to Falmouth with our heads held high and the words of an FXU chap telling us that there is money available through Sport England to buy some fancy rifles for the club. Happy days…

Truth told though, i was mentally exhausted. Concentrating so hard for short period was incredibly intense and it left my body and my mind completely taught. It was honestly akin to my mental tiredness when i scored my hundred earlier in the season… but achieved in just 15 minutes of shooting, and not 2 hours of batting! I was in serious need of a therapist, but thankfully I found some Ben and Jerries in the freezer which is the definitely the next best thing.

Was it enjoyable? Yes, in a very different way!

Would I go again? Definitely, though over time the cost might be a bit much for me. I genuinely think that the intensity of concentration required will help me focus in exams and when batting.

Was it safe? Completely. At no point was there every any risk to anyone whatsoever. I arguably felt safer than I do playing cricket, or riding the bus from campus to Falmouth. The people at the rifle club were experts, and whilst they had a vested interest in getting us to attend they were professional and treated safety with the utmost importance it deserves when shooting a potentially lethal weapon.

Do you ‘get’ shooting’? Definitely. The mental rush, the smell of cordite and the loud report of a rifle. It is more than a little exciting. You should try it!

Road to an Expedition: The Provisional Team

Part 1 of the ‘Road to an Expedition’ Series. 

With just under a year to go until Perhentian Ecology kicks off all over again, the time has come to recruit a new team for next year. There were 3 of us in 2014, and from experience, that wasn’t quite enough for a fully fledged ecological expedition (and it wasn’t, it was a feasibility study). Whilst 3 was too few, any more than 6 would limit the mobility and flexibility of the expedition, and with the potential of teaming up with a Malaysian university, a compact, flexible and experienced team is exactly what is needed. In a simple posting on Facebook, I’ve already managed to assemble a very strong team, although a few people who said they would like to join have skill-sets that just don’t match the task at hand.

Provisionally, and ultimately in my head, the team stands as follows.

Billy Burton, Expedition Leader: Making it happen. Performing surveys, planning, grant applications, social media, medical support and all the other fun things that come with leadership. I’m very experienced on the Perhentian Islands and know exactly what needs to be done to make our research be as valuable as possible. Theoretically at least, I am currently one of the authorities on the ecology of the Perhentian Islands.

Rhian Grey, Director of Science: Rhian is a zoology graduate of the University of Exeter, with an impressive array of field experience, including stints in Borneo and China. Rhian will add ecological authority to the expedition, ensuring that our methodologies are as effective as possible and that they are planned and adhered to properly. A good photographer in her own right, Rhian will slot into the role like a glove.

Josh Gray, Head of Photography: Josh was a member of the original 2014 expedition, and is entering his final year at Falmouth University, studying Marine and Natural History Photography. He is an extremely talented photographer, and is highly experienced in tropical rainforests, spending the Summer of 2014 embedded with Ecoteer, venturing for days at a time into Taman Negara. The quality of the images Josh captures are second to none and thus he makes a no-brainer for 2016.

Jamie Bubb, Expedition Logistics and Management: Jamie is perhaps the most ‘left-field’ selection, but it is this that makes him a brilliant addition to the team. Jamie is studying business at Lancaster University, and spent last year on a year abroad at a university in Bangkok, Thailand. Highly motivated, with excellent organisational and management skills honed in a number of internships, an ecological expedition will admittedly be a new experience for Jamie. I have no doubts, however, that he will be vital in getting this project off the ground, in the terms of organisation, networking and managing the day-to-day operations on the ground.

This team offers a much more holistic approach than was possible last year, and there might still be room for one more person. Space could be made for one outstanding candidate for sure. Another bioscientist perhaps, or a skilled videographer to film a documentary based around the expedition and the islands.

Our research will invariably focus on herps, and I discovered a neat little trick use by Expedition Manu, Peru, in the Amazon this year. In order to gain ID shots of smaller herps, they used a glass plate upon which the reptile/amphibian was placed, enabling them to capture detailed shots of underside of the specimen, which can be highly valuable. This is a neat little trick that we will be hoping to use next Summer.

To round off, I am really happy with the prospective team for next year. There might be room for one more, and current members may decide they don’t want to go. However, as it stands, Perhentian Ecology is going to produce some excellent science next summer!

2015 Cricket Season Review

Preparation for the 2015 season started very early for me, as far back as October. I’d joined a new side, Perranarworthal, and winter nets started in October and ran all the way through until a couple of weeks before the season, providing me with my best practice period yet. The standard at indoor nets was little more varied than I was used to, but I quickly realised that the indoor pitch was a lot more bouncy than the outdoors pitches, which was a shame. There was one very good all-rounder who was the fastest bowler and probably the most promising attacking batsman, a youngish bowler who was capable of getting some impressive swing, a very promising young keeper, a Cornwall County ladies player and a whole host of canny medium-pace bowlers (my nemesis). Of course, there were more people than that, with many great characters, and it is fair to say that I absolutely loved the club (and still do). The ground is great, the people are great and the atmosphere is really positive. After a lot of work by all involved with the club, Perran is starting to stand tall once again.

More than anything, Perran taught me to enjoy my cricket again, something that I lost at my previous Cornish club. Everyone was exceptionally accommodating, especially as a non-driving student, even allowing me to lead some training sessions (which perhaps, in hindsight, was an overeager mistake on my part). My performances, however, were dreadful. I looked like a million dollars in the nets over the Winter. I felt good, I was coping with everything thrown at me, and was capable of middling the ball nearly on demand. Good times. Starting out in the first team, I didn’t really get a chance to prove myself, and after a while the novelty of being a specialist fielder wore off. I jumped down into the twos expecting to get some runs on the board, take a few wickets here and there, and more than anything, learn.

With a really promising young captain at the helm (who has had an incredible season by all accounts in his 1st season of captaincy), the team put together a run of decent performances early on in the season, and we did well against some strong sides. I, however, was faring miserably. I wasn’t miffed about not getting a bowl- the pitches weren’t quite there yet- but I was given so many opportunities to score runs against attacks that I felt like I should be really hurting. Something wasn’t right at least; I didn’t ‘get’ the bounce off the pitch at all, and I couldn’t even deal with average medium pace. Suffice to say, my stats for that part of the season were dreadful. 5 innings for just fourteen runs is the stuff of nightmares.

Perhaps mercifully, my season down there was cut short by a change in personal circumstances then sent packing back up to Warwickshire. I’ve been playing for Rugby for a long time, and was glad to join their ranks again. Naturally, after being away for so long I was put in the 3rd team. I wasn’t really feeling it at all, but in my first game back I turned up and was asked to open, and so I strapped by pads on, told number 3 and 4 to get ready and made my way slowly to the middle. The bowling was pretty dreadful to be honest, and playing on astro probably didn’t help them either. I scored a once bounce for over square leg early on, and thought ‘hmmm… I don’t feel too bad here’. After a while I felt even better, and managed to flay the bowling to all parts, including a through glorious on-drives, a pretty nice clip over the bowlers head and plenty of pulls and hooks. I think I only scored one boundary on the offside in the entire innings! My back sore and my mind tiring, I was absolutely stunned when I genuinely made it to my first ever century. A rather subdued celebration followed as we declared on 300-odd instantly, but I can’t describe what the innings meant to me. Scoring a hundred had been a goal of mine since I was about 8, and passing that landmark felt very good indeed. I was 101*, and I was a very happy man.

Then the strangest thing happened. I became completely demotivated by my century. It was like I had achieved something I had wanted to do for so long, and now there was nothing left to do, or nothing else to give. Regardless, it wasn’t good. I moved up into the twos, and I think it is fair to say that I ‘found my level’ of cricket, if that makes sense. The standard seemed to perfectly suit my development at the moment and I enjoyed every hard-fought game. I made a couple of gritty knocks in touch situations- a 21* recovery effort after a lot of wicket fell perhaps being the highlight, but nothing outstanding. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the standard in the twos and could feel myself learning in every game. Something still wasn’t right though, as the occasional misfield crept into my game. I remember misjudging a catch terribly at Handsworth (my favourite ground), resulting in it sailing for 6 over my head, and then actually dropping one in the deep when I was well set later in the season. I never drop catches, so this was a bit of a shock.

As for bowling, I FINALLY got a bowl in virtually my last game of the season, and took three wickets for six runs in just 15 balls. Undervalued, honestly. I don’t think I played much after that with a lot of personal things to sort, so I bowled 15 balls all season, which isn’t great. I didn’t train anywhere near as much as I normally would though, allowing personal things to impact my game, and perhaps I got out of the season what I put in this year.

My statistics for Rugby were good this year though. I only played 6 games, and made 166 runs at an average of 41.5, which places me in the top 4 in the whole club. Admittedly, others who played a lot more than me have been hard done by there. At least I know that somewhere in there is a good player.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I will play cricket again next season. I’ve always played cricket but there are parts of it that I’m starting to tire of to say the least, and perhaps it is time to try something new. Maybe the bug will bite again, but at the moment, that may be it for a while. Maybe I’ll have a go at T20 for once. Looking to the future, I’m considering trying ultimate frisbee, tennis, squash and shooting. I have a taster session lined up for the new university rifle club so I am really looking forward to giving that a go… It is something very different, at least!

Syria: Between a Rock and a (Very) Hard Place

The Syria crisis has been raging for months now, and with the added pressure of the refugee crisis in Europe, the political atmosphere appears to be moving from endless debate to action at last.

With Assad heavily losing ground, as noted by the loss of Idlib this week, Russia appears to be getting more heavily involved shipping considerably larger amounts of supplies to their Syrian allies. What is more striking, however, is the ‘quality’ Syria BTR 82of these supplies. Russia has started to provide Syria with higher-end equipment, as well as training the Syrian Army in their usage. More advanced APCs have been shipped in recent days, and with the so-called ‘Syrian Express’ gaining moment

Turkish soldiers patrol the border town of Ceylanpinar at the Turkish-Syrian border, on November 11, 2012. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Kurdish residents backed by militia from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) had taken control of three towns near the border with Turkey after convincing pro-government forces to leave. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

GRAPHIC CONTENT A Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. Thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Athens on September 2, as Greek ministers held talks on the crisis, with Europe struggling to cope with the huge influx fleeing war and repression in the Middle East and Africa. AFP PHOTO / Nilufer Demir / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY = TURKEY OUT =

um, it wouldn’t be surprising to see
images of more Russian military hardware in coming weeks. Russia and Iran are Assad’s only major allies, but they are significant allies nonetheless. Rumours have been heard suggesting that Russia is considering taking direct military action against ISIS and related enemies in support of Assad. Like many nations, this will likely be in the way of air-strikes, however Assad has lost vast quantities of manpower from a wholly exhaustible supply. He is government surely cannot survive at the current rate of losses, and thus this may lead to more ‘practical’ Russian support, including troops on the ground.

The west continues to bomb IS, and slowly but surely, more nations are joining the coalition. The UK is due to debate conducting air strikes in Syria as a matter of policy in the coming days, whilst Australia is believed to be similarly inclined. What this is achieving, however, is another question entirely. It seems clear now that this conflict will not be ended by airstrikes facilitated by neighbouring countries. The lack of a cohesive opposition to IS remains an issue in itself. There is a vast number of factions fighting against the regime in Syria, and naturally a number of these will never be supported by an international coalition. The Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front is yet another grim spectre that is succeeding on the battlefield, in stark contrast to the somewhat stalled Free-Syrian Army. Syria Factions

I think that the international coalition needs to do some serious soul-searching, for otherwise this crisis, and associated crises, will not be halted for a long time to come. It is highly unlikely that the conflict will end in with a conventional occupation by one dominating force, and the west needs to realise that the Free Syrian Army is never going to be strong enough to be that force. The time has come to ‘kill your darlings’, and for the West that means dropping the concept of deposing Assad at syria strikethis stage of the conflict. They need to work, if not in partnership with Assad and Russia, at least in ‘understanding’ each other. The bigger picture here is that ISIS and associated groups pose a highly credible threat to regional and international stability, and this needs to be tackled. Due to the increasingly factionalized nature of the conflict, there is a desperate need for a coherent opposition to be formed. Somehow, out of the chaos, a united front needs to emerge between a number of parties. Militarily, Turkey is crucial. The current clashes with the PKK are highly unfortunate as the PKK had fared well against ISIS. Sadly, I doubt they will ever see eye to eye again, and an independent Kurdistan appears a lot further away thaSyria Landing Craftn it did just a few weeks ago.

There is a vast multitude of nations lined up against IS, from Bahrain to Lithuania, but only if a coherent strategy is put together will these offers of support actually lead to gains on the ground. Assad needs to be ignored for the time being. Whilst he may be seen as a cancer by many, the west needs to work in with him militarily in order to defeat IS.

Every major player in the Syrian Crisis has the key to cracking the conflict open; Russia, Iran, Turkey, the United States, EU, Saudi Arabia- it is just that no-one is willing to compromise enough to bring an end to the conflict.

The war in Syria rages on, indoctrination continues and the international threat is only growing with every day that ISIS exists. They say that ‘all it takes for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing’, but here there are many, many good men, who are at least doing something. But this time, something isn’t enough.