Security Forward-Risk & Intelligence Forum’s quarterly meeting was held at The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers' Proof House just outside the City of London on 17 July 2019.
We were first addressed by our ‘Speaker in Residence’ Lt Col Crispin Black. Crispin gave a presentation on Lady Thatcher’s famous, or infamous, according to taste, view of Germany, as expressed in her 1993 memoirs - The Downing Street Years. ‘By its very nature, Germany is a destabilising, rather than a stabilising force in Europe’. He outlined the manifest achievements, advantages, and comforts of the modern German state: great wealth, impressive healthcare, a solid industrial base-both in huge companies and small and medium sized enterprises (the Mittelstand), enhanced and multiplied by a dynamic regionalism, and an efficient and respected apprentice system. Plus a political system that seems able to deal with new political parties and resolve, or at least tame, political crises without destabilising the country. But he was fearful that the German political establishment had yet to understand its new found power as shown in Chancellor Merkel’s 2015 apparently spur-of-the-moment decision to open Germany’s borders to a million plus refugees from the Middle East, with all the consequences that Europe lives with today. There followed a lively discussion which took us into the coffee break.
Our second speaker was Professor Mark Galeotti, who is an Honorary Professor at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies and a Senior Associate Fellow at The Royal United Sercvices Institute, as well as Senior Non-Resident Fellow of International Relations Prague and previously Head of its Centre for European Security. His talk was entitled ‘Organised Crime in Russia’ and he gave a fact filled history with many anecdotes. There was an extremely good discussion following his talk on the distinctions of state involvement in crime, tolerance of criminal gangs, or active state intervention.
We then had our usual session on ‘Sharing Your Current In-Tray’ during which participants introduced themselves and identified issues of particular interest and concern. This is a very valued session, which allows a platform for all those present to raise issues and discuss points of concern with the whole group. Following the round robin, we were given a tour of The Proof Room with our traditional cocktail-of-the-talk in hand, some German Sekt. It was somewhat disconcerting wandering round guns to be proofed while downing some drinks, but members coped admirably taking copious refills.
At dinner in the Court of the Gunmakers, Dr Anja Shortland talked about her book ‘Kidnap: Inside The Ransom Business’. Being an economist, she decided to view ‘Kidnap’ as a business model, a fascinating approach. Millions of people live, travel, and work in areas with significant kidnap risks, yet kidnaps of foreign workers, local VIPs, and tourists are surprisingly rare and the vast majority of abductions are peacefully resolved - often for remarkably low ransoms. In fact, the market for hostages is so well ordered that the crime is insurable. This is a puzzle: ransoming a hostage is the world's most precarious trade. What would be the "right" price for your loved one - and can you avoid putting others at risk by paying it? What prevents criminals from maltreating hostages? How do you (safely) pay a ransom? And why would kidnappers release a potential future witness after receiving their money?
There is no price, no Amazon star ratings for "good kidnappers", little repeated interaction, much emotion, no certainty of delivery, no certainty of payment, etc. Yet kidnap functions as a market. Over discussion, the team drew out a distinction between commercial kidnap and terrorist hostage situations. Anja's core thesis, that kidnap insurance services provide the continuity over time for market functions to take effect, was well-received. As usual, a copy of the book was given to all participants.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place on the 17 October.