Interview with a former child detainee at Yarl’s Wood

Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is a detention centre in Bedford, UK which mainly houses women and families awaiting immigration. Many detainees are taken to Yarl’s Wood after dawn raids on their homes, and the centre has a history of hunger strikes by detainees protesting negligence.

Last week I met with a former child detainee at Yarl’s Wood. She and her family came to the UK as asylum seekers in 2004, and in 2005 their application was refused and they were detained and threatened with deportation. She was 12 years old. By resisting and screaming on the plane, she was able to delay and ultimately avoid being deported, giving her mother time to appeal their case.

She talked to me about her experience in Yarl’s Wood as a child, seeking asylum in the UK, and living in London now as a black Asian woman. This interview was given on the condition of anonymity.

Morgan Potts: Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with me. Can you tell me about your family’s decision to seek asylum in the UK?

XX: I was born in UAE [United Arab Emirates]. Because my dad owned a shipping business, we moved around quite a bit. We lived in different parts of the Middle East, stayed in Saudi Arabia briefly, and then my dad wanted to focus on developing his business from his home town, Assab in Eritrea. I was really young when we went there.

In Assab we went through some issues with local government. My dad got taken away. I think he went through a few different prisons. We don’t really talk about it. But he got taken away and my mum decided the best thing to do was to come to the UK, to flee here as asylum seekers.

In Eritrea, the government arbitrarily incarcerates whoever they want. Because of the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea during times of war, if they suspect that you’re doing anything treasonous they’ll incarcerate you. My dad was taken on the accusations of him being some sort of spy, or conspiring something, because of the fact that he had the cargo business and communicated with a lot of people in different regions.

Officers came into our house one night, messed some shit up and threw stuff around, took a bunch of papers and took my dad away. I wasn’t sure where he went; when we try to speak to him about it now he doesn’t like to talk about it very much. They took him away and I remember my relatives and family friends saying, “You can’t stay here, what are you going to do here, they’ve taken your dad, what are they going to do to the kids, who’s going to support you?” It was basically not safe. We had to leave.

Some family friends put my mum into contact with this man in the UK who is known for processing and flying people to the UK. During the raid they took all the documents in my dad’s house, which included all the business papers, birth certificates, passports, everything, but the guy managed to set up fake passports to fly us into the UK. When we got to the UK we applied for asylum.

MP: What’s it like to come to the UK as an asylum seeker?

XX: We came here in 2004. It was me, my older brother, and my mum. When you come in as asylum seekers what they do first is take your interview in Croyden, and then they ship you to different hotels or accommodation while you wait to get your actual accommodation. Our temporary accommodation was in Margate; we spent about three months there. It was all a strange experience because you had no money on you so you had to eat whatever was provided to you, and sometimes the food wasn’t good or if you came in too late to get the food you’d miss out. From there we got taken to Swansea.

But a year after we moved to Wales everyone went through this panic. The asylum seeker community was essentially worried because they heard rumors—not rumors, but they’ve actually known people to have gotten a visit from the law enforcement, taking them away to detention centres for deportation.

A lot of people would send their kids to sleep at their friends’ houses or someone else they know from the community out of fear of getting a visit in the middle of the night from these police officers that essentially would just take you away from your community and your home, to send you back to a country that you didn’t want to go back to.

MP: What was it like when you were taken into police custody?

XX: We’d been living in Swansea for about a year and a half, and I’d settled into school and the community. When we came here and applied for asylum, our case included my mum, my brother, and me. Because my mum is Filipino, regardless of where we were born and what nationality my dad is, they just gave us whatever nationality our mum has because we’re her dependents. So we were assigned Filipino nationality, and had we been deported we would have been deported to the Philippines.

There was that fear, that panic in the air, and everyone was hyper-aware that they might get this visit. One night when I was in Year 8—just going about my daily routine, coming back from school, going to sleep, preparing for the next day—at 3am we got like this really loud knock on the door: “Police, open up! Police, open up! Police open up!” I remember being so scared. It was I think seven police officers, and they came in and they sat my mum down in the living room and said, “We’ve been sent here to deport you because your papers have been refused.”

My mum was crying for a good while but once she got herself together she said, “Okay guys, pack your stuff, we have to go”. So we go through the whole house, packing everything into suitcases. The police officers were following around the house to make sure we didn’t run away or anything. I remember having to leave so many things, things that I really loved and cared about but couldn’t take because they wouldn’t fit in the suitcases.

They escorted us into this one big van that had cages all around the inside, so you couldn’t see the driver. There were two or three rows of seats, and you’d sit down and police officers would sit right next to you on either side. There was also a police car which accompanied the van. And being a child I remember being so afraid. We haven’t really committed a crime, so why are we getting this sort of treatment?

MP: Why was your application for asylum refused?

XX: Our case failed because they reasoned that we can’t go back to Eritrea but we could go back to the Philippines. My mum was trying to express that we had no one in the Philippines, and we hadn’t been there in ages. But because we were seeking asylum on grounds that were not political, they didn’t see it as a priority. So the case failed.

My mum appealed that case, and it just continued to fail, but we had a bad solicitor at the time. When we came here we had no idea who to contact for legal advice and could barely afford a solicitor, so we just went through hearsay, but we had no idea what was going on. We had a really bad solicitor who would deliberately hold on to information so that the case failed and we would have to pay to have them try to reopen the case. Instead of submitting your appeal on time, they would rather prolong it and try to make it more difficult to try to get as much money out of you as possible. And this is at a time when you have no money anyway. We didn’t have clear communication with our solicitors, so we didn’t know whether our appeal was successful or not; it was unexpected when the police officers came to us and said, “Your asylum application has been declined and we have to deport you.” We got taken to this detention centre in Bedford, Yarl’s Wood.

MP: Tell me about your first impression of Yarl’s Wood.

XX: After the four hour drive we get to Yarl’s Wood, and all I see are cages. As soon as you drive up to it, you see these massive steel gates all around the compound. It was a long drive and we were quite exhausted, but I finally accepted that I’m not going back home and I’m leaving my friends. I don’t remember if I had a mobile phone or not, and they may have taken our phones away from us, but essentially you can’t even say goodbye to your friends and people around you, or your neighbors that you play with every day. It was just awful.

Being 12 and knowing that there was this panic about having this visit, when it finally happened to us it felt like “It’s over, I’m leaving the UK and I’m leaving all my friends and I don’t know where I’m going. The worst has happened.”

First they process you, they ask you to give in your mobile phones which were already turned off, take off all your jewelry, and deposit your valuables. There was a lot of waiting around; you’d have to wait for hours in this small room with a TV. I don’t even know why we were waiting, but you sit there and wait for ages. I remember having the worst minestrone soup.

It definitely felt like prison. Every door you’d pass through was unlocked to let you in, then locked behind you.

Once you get processed they show you a room. I had to share a room with my brother which was essentially two single beds, and my mum was in the room right next door, and there was a door that connected them. Even the windows had bars. When you’d look out you could see barbed wire all around the outskirts and even more gated fences. It was just awful being there.

MP: How long were you in detention?

XX: I stayed there for about three or four weeks leading up to Christmas. We got out the week before Christmas.

MP: What was it like being detained as a child?

XX: It was horrible. In our case, the flight to the Philippines was once a week, and they would try to send us back every weekend. They would take you to the airport and they would try and put you on a plane and send you back home.

But I knew that in order for me to stay here I’d have to resist, I’d have to fight. I felt like our case wasn’t heard properly, and they were trying to send us away and oppress us from speaking out against it. I had to resist. I was the youngest—my brother’s two years older than me—and here I am this 12 year old girl that was fighting three police officers just to not be on a plane, I’d shout and scream and kick and fight and they’d have to actually carry me up to a plane because I didn’t want to leave—I didn’t want to leave a place where I finally felt like I’d found home. It was awful, it was awful.

But aside from the difficult part of “oh shit” every weekend when we were threatened with deportation, there were awful things in there. At that point within the ward there was this one week where a certain part of the ward was closed off, and we all wondered why is it closed off, and it turns out that the woman that was staying there killed herself. For us young children to hear that someone in the same position as ourselves had just killed themselves, it was so much to stomach. It was awful. Being a child and feeling like, they had a playground that you could play at, being a child and going out to play in a place where you can’t actually leave and go farther than you wanted to. It was awful, the whole experience.

The last point of contact that we had with my father then, at that point was—my dad knew that if he needed to reach us that we’d be in the UK, and after we spoke to our solicitors they said that my dad was on the way to the UK—through some kind of communication channel between my dad and a few people, the Eritrean community is quite close—they had spoken to my dad and said they were trying to get him to come to the UK. So we knew that if we left the UK to the Philippines we wouldn’t be sure how to get in touch with our dad.

MP: Can you tell me more about what it was like inside Yarl’s Wood?

XX: They had different wards. It was a really big place, it actually looked like something of a palace or a mansion. The walls at Yarl’s Wood were blueish, and the bedsheets were blue. It was like a hospital with black bars. In our ward, you’d have a long lobby, and there’d be rooms on both sides. From what I remember there were a few floors. The facilities were okay. They’d have a laundry room, the commissary place, the canteen, religious rooms, and a playground.

When you first get there they give you a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a little bit of shampoo, stuff like that, and you could request more as you needed it. The rooms were okay. They had single beds, and a small TV in each room. The TV was weird because it was pre-recorded so certain programs would just loop over and over again. There was one music video by Kanye West and the guy from Maroon 5, what is that song called? Anyway the video is this black and white cartoon child that gets into this taxi which flies away, and I remember watching this on loop in a fucking caged room. So every time I watch it now I remember back to when I was in prison. It’s so intense being a child in there. Now when I see certain videos that they played on that TV I think, “I fucking hate this video.”

They had one room that was made up to be like a school. There was one teacher that would teach for a few hours, I think it was every week day. You’d sit there and she’d do English, and bit of maths, and a little bit of science. There were a lot of kids, but I made friends with about ten. Some of them were 14 or 15 from Angola, some of them were my age and they were Jamaican but they lived in Scotland. It was a mix girls and boys, a lot of siblings. In “class” it was a big deal that we finish our homework but they were about to throw us out of the country so what’s the point.

Then there were little babies. I remember this one little kid, probably under a year old, his name was Michael. He had really bad eczema, and it was to do with what he ate, I think he couldn’t eat breaded chicken; if he had any of that he would just get a really bad allergic reaction all over his body. I remember his mum complaining about wanting something, I think it was bottled milk, or any sort of food that she could give to her child so he wouldn’t get that reaction, and she couldn’t get it for weeks. She’d have to keep going down to the main office and arguing with the people there, and there was no way of getting what she needed for her child. You’d see the boy and he’d be sick, and he’d cry because his skin was just massively dotted and itchy and red. You’d see mothers that would have little children that can’t get things like milk because they don’t have any commissary money. They can’t get certain things that they need for their children and they have to apply and wait for days or weeks to get it, and their child just has to go without until that gets processed.

MP: Can you elaborate on the commissary?

XX: I think you could use your money that was deposited when you’re first processed to buy commissary money for yourself. Then you get access to things like, sweets and stuff, but most importantly phone cards which my mum used to talk to solicitors with. You’d buy basic things like a toothbrush, but mainly a lot of the money would go on phone cards which you’d use to call your solicitor. Which begs the question of what happens if you don’t have money to contact your solicitors?

I remember just being a child and really wanting sweets every now and then because they wouldn’t give you sweets, the food that they would give you was quite plain, so yeah when you get the chance you go and get sweets.

MP: What else stands out in your memories of Yarl’s Wood?

XX: The person that killed themselves was this woman, I think she was in her late 20s. I’m not sure if we knew her or not but I remember when I found out I was shocked because I felt like I knew her. I felt like there was some sort of connection, maybe because she was new and I spoke to her when she came? But I remember when I heard the news it hit a really strong chord in me.

A lot of times you’d have people fighting with officers there and you’d see people get restrained. Sometimes officers would have to break into certain rooms. I remember there was a lot of force between people that worked there and people that stayed there, maybe because some people would be trying to commit suicide, or people fighting for just other reasons but I just remember a lot of that, I’m not sure, it’s quite hazy for me. There had been quite a few attempts where people tried to kill themselves, and the officers had to break in or use force to stop them.

I think, aside from the fact that you saw how it affected your family, the most difficult part of it was knowing that there wasn’t much you can do. This is the government against you; it’s like the law is against you. You’re the criminal at this point, so whatever it is that you do, you know they’ll bring six or seven police officers if it has to come to that, essentially it’s this young child against all these people.

MP: Can you tell me about resisting at the airport?

XX: The security that would come with us to the airport were different to the security in house. In house the people were generally okay: they would try and just do their job, be as plain as possible. Some of them were quite friendly, others were a bit mean. The security guards, the escorts that took us to the airports, they tried to be as cold as possible. We were cuffed in the van and on the plane, and uncuffed to use the toilet. We were generally cuffed while being transported.

Before being taken on to the plane, I met a Nigerian man in the immigration holding room at the airport who saw me crying and told me, “If you really want to stay then fight for it”.

I think it was three or four men and two women, in suits. In terms of the physical act of restraining, it was quite tough. They actually carried me, one holding me on each sides and one person who just grabbed my legs, walking up the steps to the plane. Then when I was on the plane seat they tried and put my seatbelt on and I’d have to fight and push and shove and get the seatbelt off and scream and shout just to the point where the air hostess was just like, “We can’t have this on the plane, if she’s not gonna calm down we can’t have it”.

I remember one of the comments when I was resisting, “Oh great, she ruined my holiday”. I’m out here trying to not get taken to some country that I haven’t been to in so long, and your biggest worry is that I ruined your little trip to the Philippines. There was no empathy. You could really feel that they were frustrated with the fact that we ruined their holiday. Our suffering is very small to them. It’s really weird because you’d go through all of that, resisting and fighting these people, and you’d get put back in the same caged van and have to sit with them for two hours to the detention centre again.

I remember thinking that it was the worst thing because the only sense of freedom or being outside is that commute from the detention centre to the airport. That’s the only time I get to step outside and sense some sort of freedom. Walking around in one of the small rooms in immigration at the airport I was like, this is freest I’ve felt since being taken to the detention centre. You feel the open air of the airport and the plane, and although I am fighting, it felt weird because I remember feeling like I’m finally outside. You go through that, get put on a plane, resist, fight, get taken right back to the car, and it’s back to prison again, it’s back to being entrapped.

MP: You were able to put off, and ultimately totally avoid, being flown to the Philippines because you made a big scene on the plane essentially?

XX: Yeah, essentially. Knowing that is what I have to do in order to avoid it, I was just like fuck it, I’m not going on this plane I don’t want to go, I felt like that was the thing that I had to do, and I did it and it worked. They were like we can’t have this on the plane, she can’t be screaming for the whole of the journey. Yeah that worked.

I think back and it’s like three guards—three big, really tall men—and they’d have to restrain me, here I’m this 12 year old girl that’s fighting to stay here.

MP: Were you scared?

XX: The fear came when the van pulled up to the plane, because what they would do is put us on first, and then they let the rest of the passengers come on. That fear when you stop next to the plane, you’re like, fuck, this is it. That’s as far as the fear gets. Then after that it’s like no, this is what you have to do to survive, this is what you have to do to fight. At that point, I think, courage and that anger and that power just comes to you naturally.

MP: Did your mother or your brother also resist?

XX: No, it was just me. I think my mum was very tired at the time. The whole experience took everything out of her. A lot of the mothers didn’t really eat because of the stress. We’d have lunch and I could see my mum not eating and I could see that there was so much on her chest and on her soul.

I really didn’t want to go back to the Philippines because essentially we really had nothing there for us. The last time I was in the Philippines I was really young, maybe six? There was tension between my uncles and my mum, especially because my mum married an Eritrean man. Her attitude was like, “If they can’t accept my kids and my husband then I don’t need to be there.”

I think that’s what gives you that power to fight because if you don’t, what’s going to happen when we get to the other end where we know no one? They’re not going to set you up in a house, or into an apartment or accommodation, they’re pretty much going to drop you in the airport probably and say “Okay, go make your way”. And for me it was just like, I can’t have that. If we were deported there, we’d get to the Philippines and struggle just to find a way to survive. We already didn’t have much money, and in the Philippines you pay for everything: rent, school, transportation, everything gets paid for. To go from being an asylum seeker with not much in the UK to the Philippines where you have nothing… At that time I couldn’t understand what was worrying my mum so much, but now that I’m older I can see that that’s a daunting thing to be sent back to a country that you haven’t been to for ages, with no money, and essentially no one to call. I can see why she didn’t eat, I can see why she couldn’t sleep.

MP: How did you find the strength to fight?

XX: I think back and I don’t even know how I resisted or what came over me to do that. A lot of the kids there felt a certain way, there was some sort of “we’ve got to fight” in them. But it sucks because some of the people that you meet there go and never come back. And then you’re just like, “Man that could be me”. I was there for 2 weeks before there was actual fighting. The first flight that they take you on, if you resist they say fine. The next time, they bring guards. You resist another time, they bring more guards, and it goes on like that. I remember thinking that I have to fight because there are people that I want to see—there are friends that I have made in the detention centre, I want them to know that I’m okay and that I’ve made it back. I want to be one of the ones that comes back. It was so much as a child to make friends and just have them go away; it was so much for me.

MP: Why were you eventually released from detention?

XX: That went on for three weeks, just constantly dreading the next time they try and send you away. During the third week my mum’s solicitor managed to communicate that my dad is in the country and about to process an application. They decided that since the cases are linked and my dad was in the UK, it didn’t make sense to send us away anymore.

They released us and dropped us off at the nearest station. We had nine suitcases between the three of us. They helped with our stuff and paid for our tickets but then we were left to make our own way home.

It was just so awful because after experiencing that you realise that these people really don’t care; you have no country that you belong to, and even the place where you think you’ve found safety treats you like shit. It was a really bad experience. How does this kind of thing happen to people, how do we get treated this way? There was no consideration for the fact that you’re already afraid, having fled a very difficult situation; getting treated like that is just horrible, but then they don’t think about the social element of being a child, your friends and the connection that you’ve made with people, being uprooted and taken to a place that looks like prison. I watch Orange Is The New Black and I think, “This prison looks a little bit better than what we’d been going through.”

Then there was the issue of getting into contact with my dad. We knew he was here, but you can’t just phone up the Home Office and be like “Hey, give me my dad’s number”, so it was a whole issue of trying to find people who knew where he was. When you come in as an asylum seeker they can send you to anywhere in the UK.

MP: What’s your immigration status now?

XX: Ultimately our application was successful. My dad really went through a bunch of shit, he really doesn’t want to speak to us about it, but I think after applying for asylum he was approved quite quickly because of the extent of the evidence. He had a lot of scars and stuff showing the things that he went through, and a bunch of health checks. Eritrea is known for that kind of treatment.

After we got into contact with him, we weren’t automatically granted refugee status as a family; we had to reapply to get it extended to us as well, and to prove that we’re all related, that he is indeed our father. They interviewed us separately and then referenced our stories against all the files they had previously, and it was a whole complex process. But our case was approved. We all got refugee status around 2008 and now I’ve applied for British citizenship.

MP: What was it like when you returned to Swansea?

XX: Going back to Swansea was in itself a weird experience, because if you imagine just disappearing somewhere for three weeks, then having to explain to people where you’ve been, but it’s such a sensitive subject that you’re almost ashamed to talk about it. It was embarrassing to have been detained. I didn’t know what to tell people when they asked so I said there was a family emergency back home. People knew, teachers knew, and I felt different and weird. There was no one I could talk to about it; I told one classmate because she implied that she’d be detained too, but she immediately said she was kidding and made fun of me. I missed a lot of stuff at school and it was difficult to catch up. Our house had been cleaned out like they were getting it ready for the next asylum seeking family. But it was almost Christmas and I was so happy to be back home.

In Swansea, there is this joke where they keep making fun of you for being an asylum seeker or being an immigrant. The town was a bit racist in general, but you’d get made fun of by Bengali kids that immigrated there too; there was a hierarchy and they’d make fun of you for being an asylum seeker. People bullied me and said things like, “You came here in a banana boat”.

MP: How do you identify, and what has been your experience of racism and xenophobia in the UK?

XX: I identify as black and Asian, and I’m very passionate about black women’s issues and social justice. I’m one of a few black girls at a large finance firm; an Italian guy coworker wrongly assumed that I work in reception. There’s no black culture at my firm. I feel like my natural hair isn’t appropriate and I’m ashamed to wear it natural because it’s deemed ‘untidy’ by company standards.

I saw lots of Caribbean and Pakistani people detained; generally a lot of black people. Seeing the same disproportionate treatment of black people on the streets does a lot to your mentality. The black mindset is that the police are always ready to get us. When we first got to the UK I saw a black man shoved to the ground getting cuffed in Highbury. But London is better than anywhere else I’ve been; in Swansea even within the minority communities you’re excluded as an asylum seeker. London is the only place where you can blend in.

My family tries to be as British as possible. I feel like we’ve done our bit to integrate.

MP: What does it mean to be British?

XX: To be British is to go out and work and make your own money, to pay your taxes, handling your responsibilities and contributing to society. My mum is always expressing how grateful she is to the country; there are opportunities here to make money, get an education, and get a good finance job. No one wants to be sitting around on benefits; they would work if they felt comfortable with the language, if given the chance. They want to contribute. No one wants to be a slug all day.

MP: Tell me how you feel looking back on your experience.

XX: Looking back at the experience I feel angry. We get told that the police are your friends and here to protect you, but that’s a fallacy. I have a mistrust of authority; I don’t have much respect for police officers or the law.

I have no allegiance to any state or nation. It’s not the country that’s your home, it’s the people and community. I place my value in people now as opposed to countries.

Generally migrants could be treated a lot better. That coldness makes you feel like a criminal even if you haven’t committed a crime. They should treat children with more sensitivity. Children don’t belong in detention centres; it’s not okay for children to be exposed to conditions where people are committing suicide. There needs to be more humanity in the way these people are treated when it comes to being deported.

Though I feel stronger for it, it saddens me that someone would have to go through that. It’s empowering in a sense, but it leaves you a bit damaged. Childhood is supposed to be sweet.

In 2010, the Children’s Commissioner for England reported that children at Yarl’s Wood faced “extremely distressing” conditions and treatment. In 2011 the High Court ruled that the detention of the children of failed asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood is unlawful.

The Movement For Justice is led 1,500 protesters to demand the closure of Yarl’s Wood on November 7, organising for justice and fighting racism, and contesting the morality of detention centres.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is too straight (and racist)

As a relatively new fan to Star Trek, I’ve been playfully admonished for enjoying the camp and queer-baiting The Original Series (never mind the primitive shaky-cam special effects); I’ve also been told that I would much prefer Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard to William Shatner’s over-acted Captain Kirk, and that The Next Generation did a much better job of representing minority characters.

I wanted to love TNG as much as I did TOS, but after watching its first 4 episodes, I’m quitting.

“Encounter At Farpoint”

The double-length S01E01–02 “Encounter At Farpoint” was a strange beginning. The plot centers around the Enterprise’s diplomatic mission to secure Starfleet use of the base at Farpoint, while an omnipotent alien called Q threatens to prosecute the Enterprise crew for the crimes humanity committed in then-antiquity.

It is set 100 years after TOS. The original Enterprise’s 3rd successor, the Enterprise-D, is captained by Jean-Luc Picard. The Klingons are apparently friendly with the Federation, judging by the presence of Lieutenant Worf on the bridge. DeForest Kelley makes a guest appearance as Dr Leonard McCoy—now an Admiral—to enthuse the audience. There are more women and not all of them wear short skirts; in fact, in one scene some masculine extras are seen wearing dresses on the Farpoint base. It was the highlight of the episode.

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 If you look closely, you can almost see a non-normative gender expression

We’re introduced to the new characters, who seem quite one-dimensional. The Chief Medical Officer is widowed Dr Beverley Crusher, and her tween son tries to set her up with First Officer William Riker, who does take a liking to the boy. Dr Crusher’s entire characterization is centered around the tragic death of her late husband; she is lonely but competent in her job, a strong single mother yet flustered at her boy’s attempts to stimulate her personal life. We also meet Geordi La Forge, the token black and disabled character, who doesn’t get much characterization beyond being blind-yet-extra-able, able to sense a larger light spectrum than sighted people with the aid of his VISOR. He describes a constant pain caused by the VISOR to Dr Crusher who, with little knowledge of the VISOR, recommends exploratory surgery; La Forge declines. For anyone who’s been to a GP about a ‘specialist’ issue, this scene is too real.

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But Wesley’s sweater game is on point.

The plot is disjointed, jumping between the Farpoint base and the trial of humanity. It transpires that the base at Farpoint is actually a giant shapeshifting jellyfish alien who has been trapped there by the Bandi people who occupy it. Picard proves humanity’s newfound peaceful nature by refusing to resort to force when the captive alien’s “mate” shoots tentacle-lasers at the Bandi.

It ends with the ‘base’ being liberated, joining its mate. They are monogamous. They are color-coded pink and blue, so you can feel comfortable about the normative genders and sexuality of these telepathic jellyfish aliens.

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Verdict: Messy, but I’m willing to give it some time to grow into itself; 2/5 stars

“The Naked Now”

S01E03, “The Naked Now”, is a throwback to TOS S01E04 “The Naked Time”. TNG Enterprise falls victim to the same disease which plagued TOS Enterprise 100 years prior, which removes their inhibitions and makes the crew act intoxicated. In TOS, the crew’s altered state of mind is used to develop their characterizations: Sulu is an adventure-seeking swash-buckling pirate, Nurse Chaplin confesses her tender and quiet love for Spock, and Spock is an emotionally constipated mess who (when not lacking inhibitions) only keeps himself under control through extreme force of will.

Star.Trek.TNG.S01E03 - The Naked Now gif1 sml

Aggressive heterosexuality

Just like in TOS episode where Lieutenant Riley takes control of the ship, Engineering is commandeered by a drunk young Wesley Crusher who refuses to yield control or let anyone in. In TNG, the intoxication device is used to throw every character with a plot-line into a heterosexual romance: Picard and CMO Crusher; 1st Officer Riker and Counselor Troi; and Chief of Security Tasha Yar and Data (aside: that Data has a gender at all is contentious).

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 23.57.24

Troi immediately before Riker literally sweeps her off her feet and brings her to sick bay

Unsurprisingly, given his parallels with Spock, Data saves the day; surprisingly, Wesley is instrumental, guiding the show toward the child prodigy trope. At the end, Yar blushes when she spots Data on the bridge and harshly whispers to him, “It never happened”, as though their world is a dull sitcom. Data is a promising character: pure, curious, and nonjudgemental. Yar’s dismissal of their shared intimacy was unnecessary and weak, and made me despise her.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 00.03.05

Verdict: Heteronormative sitcom trash; 2/5 stars

“Code of Honor”

S01E04, “Code Of Honor”, was the third strike. The plot: an alien race, the Lagonians, has a vaccine desperately needed by Starfleet, but their diplomatic customs require absolute deference on the part of the Captain and Enterprise crew. Ligonians are played entirely by black actors, wearing ‘African’-coded clothing. They are extremely proud despite only having primitive technology and culture compared to 2360s Earth: Ligonians regard women as only useful as keepers of wealth and property (passive), while men defend and uphold their honor (active); and their weapons are poison-laced axes and spiked clubs.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 00.17.53

The Ligonian leader Lutan kidnaps Tasha Yar, Chief of Security and white woman, in a display of dominance—the King Kong trope is impossible to ignore. The entirely non-black rescue party (Picard and Troi, and later Data) juxtaposes the entirely-black Ligonians.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 00.19.19

Lutan declares that Yar will be his “first one” (primary partner), prompting his current first one Yareena to challenge Yar to a duel to the death. Yar, rational and peaceful, meets with Yareena to dissuade her, but Yareena is an Angry Black Woman, unreasonable and blinded by her competitive drive to win the man. Lutan has a potent animalistic sexual attraction that even Yar cannot ignore, though she is able to differentiate between lust and love unlike Lutan who claims to love Yar despite having just met her.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 00.25.00

The battle is long and boring. Lutan watches with pleasure, his male gaze strong. An audience member falls victim to a stray spiked glove and dies. Picard is visibly distraught but the crowd claps, reminding us of their savage nature. Yar eventually defeats Yareena with a fatal blow; both are immediately transported to the Enterprise, and CMO Crusher provides an antidote which “brings her back from the dead”. Lutan decries this as “witchcraft” before he concedes and offers Picard the vaccine.

Why couldn’t the Enterprise reproduce the sample vaccine that Lutan gifted them at the beginning of the episode? Why didn’t Yar refuse to fight?

I could forgive the episode for falling back on a tired TOS storyline, but the racist depictions of black culture as primitive, unreasonable, driven by lust, undeservedly proud, and dangerous to white people is both unforgivable and extremely boring. Perhaps the producers and writers thought that the portrayal of black characters was balanced out by the sympathetic La Forge, but having a token ‘good’ black character only creates the distinction between acceptable blackness and unacceptable blackness. The only decent part of the episode was the allusion to the sexually tense fight between Kirk and Spock in TOS “Amok Time”.

Verdict: Racist tropes and tired plot; 1/5 stars


TNG is so assertively cis-heteronormative that I don’t feel like it’s made for me. Its characters seem like reboots from TOS: Data as the new Spock; Geordie as Uhura (the token black character); Riker as Kirk. Geordie and Data and Wesley’s sweaters just aren’t enough reason to watch the remaining 172 episodes. It doesn’t help that I know that there is not a single canon depiction of queerness in all its 7 seasons—literally no one, human or alien, in TNG universe is anything other than cisgender and heterosexual. These days I’m simply not interested in cishet media.

Star Trek - S02E01 - Amok Time gif1


TOS is by no means perfect: it’s portrayal of POC characters is stiff and tropey, American imperialism is often aggrandized, and some episodes even feature white actors in brown/red face. Maybe the problems with TOS are easier to swallow because they seem more removed from modern social dialogues; brown face is so widely unacceptable today that it’s almost laughable instead of deplorable, but the implied racism in TNG is too similar to today’s problematic media. Even with its problems, I loved TOS: space exploration with a lot of subtext to fuel queer!Kirk/Spock speculation.

In Pursuit of Trans Healthcare: the NHS Psych Eval

psychologist: Hello, I’m Dr ––. I’m going to ask you some questions for your initial assessment.
me: Wait, do you know why I’m here?
psychologist: You tell me.
me: I’m not seeking ongoing treatment. I’m here because I’m transgender, and I’d like a referral to the Gender Identity Clinic.
psychologist: You’re a transgender? … What does that mean?
me: It means my gender identity does not match the gender I was assigned at birth.
psychologist: … What does that mean?
me: … When I was born, the doctor assigned me “female” based on my perceived sex characteristics; I don’t identify as female, I identity as masculine/male.
psychologist: So you’re biologically female.
me: No, assigned female at birth.
psychologist: And you want a referral to the gender change clinic?
me: No, Gender Identity Clinic, GIC.
psychologist: How did you hear about the identity change clinic?
me: Gender. Identity. Clinic. I googled it.
psychologist: Have you done anything about it yet?
me: ? I’m here? I’ve asked people to use male pronouns?
psychologist: OH you use “he”?
me: Yes, please use “he/him/his” in my reference letter.
psychologist: Have you had any operations?
me: No, that’s why I’m here, I’d like to get access to trans healthcare through the GIC.
psychologist: What kind of operations do you want?
me: I want to go on hormones—testosterone—and to get top surgery.
psychologist: ?
me: To get my breasts removed.
psychologist: Do you do anything to your breasts now?
me: I bind them.
psychologist: ?
me: I bandage them down or use sports bras to flatten my chest.
psychologist: What about your privates?
me: (Seriously?) You mean getting a phalloplasty?
psychologist: *practically salivating*
me: … I haven’t decided yet.

Continue reading “In Pursuit of Trans Healthcare: the NHS Psych Eval”

Gender Identity and Informed Consent in the UK

In order to receive gender-affirming healthcare through the NHS, trans patients in the UK must surpass a series of checkpoints in which their gender identity is externally verified. The implication is that trans people are not capable of providing informed consent because people with non-conforming gender identities are by default mentally ill: this is transphobic.

Continue reading “Gender Identity and Informed Consent in the UK”

Is North Korea a Rational Actor?

The question “Is North Korea a rational actor?” is ubiquitous throughout both academic work and media speculation on East Asian security. BBC journalist John Sweeney clumsily claimed that North Korea is “mad, and sad, and bad, and silly all at the same time”; the Economist offers the options “Bad or Mad?” in their “Nuclear North Korea” article (failing to offer an answer to their question); and even the ROK government appears to think Pyongyang mad, recently calling the release of an aggressive North Korean press statement “an irrational act.”

Coloring the DPRK crazy does little to address security concerns or provide useful analysis of the multiple security crises on the Korean peninsula, instead serving only to support a narrative that promotes political policy that has already determined the DPRK to be irrational. The alternative argument is that North Korea is knowable; its behavior is predictable, conditioned by 20th century wars, threats of war, and nationalism.

In International Relations, the prevailing assumption is that rational actors are security-seeking. Security is seen as protection against or freedom from existential threats. From this understanding arises the “security dilemma,” in which the anarchical system and lack of perfect information encourage heavily arming, making rival states feel less secure resulting in them heavily arming, and so forth. In this model, war and military threats are the main concern.

The rhetoric surrounding dominant security dialogues focuses on the state rather than citizens, both as the relevant level of analysis and the object to be secured: perhaps no state has a stronger commitment to this idea than North Korea. International cooperation, economic stability, and human security are deemed peripheral to the survival of the state.

The Rationale Behind Nuclearization

North Korea pursued nuclear weapons to ensure security in a hostile international environment as the Cold War shifted threats from conventional military aggression to nuclear aggression. The security dilemma was at an unstable high as world superpowers sought nuclear arms as a means of deterrence through mutually assured destruction.

The USSR built nuclear research facilities in Yongbyon in the 1960s, and by the 1970s the North Korean specialists trained at these facilities were able to launch a civilian nuclear fuel cycle without external assistance. The DPRK’s first nuclear reactor, a 5 MWe gas-graphite reactor, became operational in 1986. The state then built fuel fabrication facilities and a large-scale reprocessing facility which allowed for the extraction of plutonium which could be weaponized. By 1992 North Korea was capable of facilitating a full plutonium fuel cycle: the 5 MWe reactor was producing electricity and heat for the local town, and approximately 6 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium (enough for one bomb) per year.

Throughout the early 1990s, tensions rose between Pyongyang and Washington. Negotiations stalemated, and in 1994 the DPRK extracted at least 20 kg of plutonium from its reactor; the imminent nuclear crisis was only just staved off by former President Jimmy Carter, who brokered a freeze.

The Agreed Framework was the primary diplomatic effort to engage with North Korea and denuclearize the peninsula; it was also fraught with distrust, miscommunication, and failure to meet commitments. Following provocative rhetoric when the Bush administration accused the DPRK of illegally pursuing a highly enriched uranium program, a largely unfounded allegation, North Korea withdrew from the NPT, expelled IAEA inspectors, and restarted its nuclear program. The ensuing Six Party Talks in 2007 served as a second change at diplomacy and the DPRK agreed to close the Yongbyong facilities, but with the UNSC condemnation of North Korea’s failed satellite launch in 2009 North Korea pulled out and announced it would resume seeking deterrent.

Yongbyon’s 5 MWe cooling tower being destroyed in June 2008
Yongbyon’s 5 MWe cooling tower being destroyed in June 2008

In April 2013, Pyongyang announced that it would restart the mothballed 5 MWe reactor, and construction connecting the reactor to a newly built cooling pump-house (plus a new experimental LWR) was seen from satellite imagery. The 5 MWe reactor has been in operation since September of this year.

International Isolation

Abiding by international norms is a secondary concern for states struggling for survival in a hostile and anarchical environment; likewise, ensuring the safety of citizens is marginal. Thus the DPRK acts in attempt to secure its statehood despite international condemnation, going so far as to use the censure to further its security objectives in a (predictable) cycle: bellicose rhetoric, outburst, international condemnation, half-hearted reconciliation, repeat.

Since the 1980s, the DPRK has allegedly sold ballistic missiles to “countries of concern”, including: Yemen, Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Myanmar. Most have since ceased buying from North Korea, either under international pressure or because they developed greater military self-sufficiency. There is evidence that North Korea attempted to export a plutonium-producing reactor to Syria, which was destroyed in an Israeli air raid in September 2007. It’s also been speculated that Pyongyang exported uranium hexafluoride (the precursor to HEU) to Libya. Cooperation with Tehran is also possible, and Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program compliments North Korea’s. Iran is considered to be the DPRK’s only regular arms customer.

The DPRK has made several military aggressions in recent years: the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, killing 2 military personnel and 2 civilians; the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010, killing 46 sailors; and multiple missile and nuclear weapons tests despite international condemnation. In testing and demonstrating its missile and nuclear capabilities, the international community (specifically the ROK and US) have viewed the DPRK has hostile and aggressive.

Yet, North Korea is the only nation to date which announced its intention to carry out a nuclear weapons test in advance, giving the international community six days prior warning. These nuclear tests include: the first such test in 2006, resulting in nuclear fizzle; 2009; and 2013. A uranium enrichment program was revealed in 2010, opening up a second route to nuclearization.

There is no evidence that North Korea has successfully weaponized a nuclear device. The No-dong missiles and H-5 (Il-28) bombers could in the future be used to deliver nuclear warheads or bombs, but at present there is nothing to suggest the ability to deliver a warhead or bomb on either of these systems.


The securitization paradigm has a normative commitment to liberal capitalism, and as an “other” to liberal capitalist states the DPRK is deemed a threat which must be destroyed. North Korea is stylized as a “bad” actor, an unredeemable state with evil intent, whose actions are aggressive and hostile to “good” states. The regime is, in these cases, characterized as rational: it is manipulative, calculating, strategic; and it extorts aid and saber-rattles for international attention.

Alternatively, Kim Jong-un and his predecessors are often portrayed as “mad:” irrational, unpredictable, unknowable, and dangerous. Claims are made that North Korea eschews international norms to its detriment, resulting in rogue state status, sanctions, and the cessation of economic and food aid. The state is seen as secret, impenetrable; often times scholars who make this claim also make bold knowledge claims, despite North Korea’s alleged unknowability, the irony apparently lost on them. The Economist cited the 2010 Cheonan ship sinking as evidence of “a paranoid totalitarian state beginning to spin completely off the game-board of comprehensible action,” dismissing the possibility of calculated action to re-establish credibility within the disputed waters of the Koreas. The article also suggested that governments wishing to engage, apparently in a prisoner’s dilemma, with North Korea should be incredulous of the regime’s ability to be rational, writing:

It’s a lot harder to figure out a strategy for iterative negotiations when you suspect your negotiating partner may be insane. Or, worse yet, that there may not actually be any rational agent, human or otherwise, on the other end of the line at all.

Even compliance with international norms or agreements can be read as noncompliance: it’s labeled manipulative, sinister, and sneaky, with the intent of conning “us” into trusting “them” and later catching “us” off our guard.

The securitization argument also suggests that negotiations with North Korea are fruitless, because the DPRK’s interests are fundamentally misaligned with those of the international community. Securitization also suggests that North Korea’s inherent belligerence means it will always be an intransigent actor in negotiations.

The problems with the Securitization paradigm include: a lack of evidence to support claims; the inability to assimilate change; claims which are so stark they require little qualification; attempts to ignore data which does not fit into the framework; and attempts to distort and securitize data which cannot be ignored. (The latter four problems arise within all paradigms, which speaks to the difficulties with paradigms in general.)

Security narratives serve not only to explain, but to reinforce values. Security narratives have heroes and villains. There is danger to be averted, lives to be saved, and bad guys to be thwarted. A narrative is an effective tool in “othering.” The narrative implied in the rhetorical question “is North Korea a rational actor?” is that the DPRK’s rationality must be questioned, because the state’s behavior is irrational. It is a rhetorical question in which the answer is already provided: North Korea is irrational. This narrative has political objectives, with the aim of reinforcing the perceived need for a US presence on the peninsula, a fear of the North Korean Other, and continued diplomatic hostility toward the DPRK regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The narrative surrounding the North Korean nuclear question is laden with implications that North Korea is the “bad guy” (assigning personhood to the state) who must be stopped by the US, which has in recent decades taken on the role of “world police.”

Proliferation Limitation

The rhetoric surrounding the North Korea, especially in a security context, asks self-defeating questions riddled with unchallenged assumptions. The security concerns raised by questioning the DPRK’s rationality are limited to proliferation, ignoring the more immediate human security issues; some nuclear weapons scholars argue that the “gravest” security threat posed by North Korea is its nuclear weapons program despite abysmal living conditions for millions and a potential refugee crisis. Perhaps worst of all, the “rational actor” question does nothing to illuminate the security situation, instead seeking to convince us that continued “othering” is the optimal solution. Rather than offering insight into the multiple security crises on the Korean peninsula, the dominant rhetoric feeds into a narrative that is used to support the current political policy of bloated US military presence in the region and international complacency with the suffering of millions of DPRK citizens.

Academics, government agents, and the media continue to ask the “rational actor” question in an attempt to delineate the boundaries of our relative security. It is also used to reinforce the value system of American capitalism over North Korean communism, and to solidify the legitimacy of the continued US presence on the peninsula and the potential use of force against the DPRK state.

It is cowardly and all too common for scholars to criticize without offering alternatives. “Is North Korea a rational actor?” is an unhelpful question; allow me to suggest instead: “Why has North Korea isolated itself in pursuit of nuclear weapons?” to understand the DPRK as knowable rather than othered; “What is necessary for brokering a disarmament deal on the peninsula?” to stagnate proliferation from North Korea; or “What can be done to give assistance to the millions of people in North Korea with an inadequate nutrition?” and “How can we prepare for the potential DPRK refugee crisis?” to begin to alleviate the suffering of millions in the North. These questions might provide more productive answers than the “rational actor” line of inquiry, while rightfully keeping the focus on praxis.

(Trans) Gender Matters: A Primer on Trans Theory and International Security

International Relations is blind to both gender (as feminists point out) and gender diversity (a point many feminists miss). Breaking the gender binary in international security illuminates issues of unexamined power relations, identity, visibility, and most importantly it forces us to question entrenched dichotomies and consider the space and fluidity between polarities.

IR is the study of gendered individuals and actors, by gendered individuals. IR is also the study of power relations, and the power relations between [a plurality of] genders are relevant and under-examined. Just as feminism in IR revealed the sexist underpinnings of global politics and the discipline itself, trans theory exposes the ubiquitous cissexism in international relations theory. Until cissexism in IR is addressed, cisgender heterosexuals will retain the privileged position of perceived “normality” while trans people remain othered.

Gender studies has done much to highlight cissexism in its scholarship, but IR has been slow to progress. International relations should be a dialogue “of, about, and for difference”, rather than obscuring the diversity of the actors whose behavior and interaction it seeks to explain. Trans theory could also have links with other IR theories. Like most critical theories, trans theory is post-positivist. Trans theory, Marxism, and postcolonialism share the aim of deconstructing power hierarchies around understanding the influence that those power relations have on the discipline.

Continue reading “(Trans) Gender Matters: A Primer on Trans Theory and International Security”

Newly Declassified Able Archer 83 Documents

The possibility for nuclear war was at an all-time high in 1983, rivaling the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis: the Soviets had just shot down the civilian Korean flight KAL-007, and Reagan gave his manichean “evil empire” speech. Able Archer 83, the 1983 NATO command post exercise (CPX) which threw the Soviet Union into a panic over the perceived threat of a surprise first-strike attack from the US, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. What we didn’t know before was that the UK was absolutely aware of the danger posed by Able Archer.

Documents from the British Foreign Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence, and Thatcher’s office regarding Able Archer and the Soviet response were recently declassified through a Freedom of Information Act request by Peter Burt. Below are the “new” documents and my transcription of each one (for the sake of search-ability). Note that much of the text has been redacted. Click on the image for the full-size .pdf file (originally posted by Peter Burt on Nuclear Information Service. Another great resource is the National Security Archive).

These documents are the comments and notes surrounding the as-of-yet still classified 1984 UK Joint Intelligence Committee report, called JIC(84)(N)45 (3rd revised draft). This document is the UK Government’s internal response to the Soviets’ reaction to Able Archer. We can infer from the surrounding documents that it was determined that a perceived threat by the Soviets arising from the NATO CPX may cause Moscow to “over-react”, potentially preemptively striking if the Kremlin believes NATO to be mobilizing for nuclear war. After what appears to be much deliberation, it is proposed that NATO inform the Soviets of nuclear CPXs to avoid miscalculation, improve communication, and build confidence; this would be done much in the way that Field Training Exercises (FTXs) and ICBM test launches are disclosed to the “other side” beforehand to avoid accidental military confrontation.

E2 Note

D/DIS(CS) 12/1/2
20 March 1984
File 11/1/2
DI3 (Air)
DI3 (Army)
DI3 (N)
DS 17                                     
Copy to: DDI (WP)
AUS (D Staff)

Ref: JIC(84)(N)45 (3rd Revised Draft)

1.   I attach the Committee Draft of the above paper.
Formerly titled “WP: Reactions to NATO Exercise Able-Archer-83”,
This paper has aroused █████████████████████
at CIG level, and has been returned for further action
twice by the JIC. The latest CIG (last Friday) decided
on a █████████ re-draft. Despite this, and promise
to circulate the draft early “for comment”, the attachment
has only just been reviewed (1415 hrs).

2.    Since the paper covers aspects of interest to all the addressees,
DIS(CS) are required to coordinate all MoD comments.
Depending on their nature, these will be put to the
Assessment Staff by the DI(AG)I in advance of our pre-JIC
meeting tomorrow, so that DGI can then be briefed

3.    Time is therefore extremely short and addressees are
asked to provide an initial response to this office by
close of play TODAY and, depending on the nature and
extent of them, further details should be passed to AG(I)
early tomorrow.

████   ██████████

E3 Note

21 March 1984
File 11/1/2
Seen by DI(AG)I
Seen by DCDS(I)
Seen by DIAG(I)

Copy to:
Head of DS17


I have been interested to see the drafts of JIC(84)(N)45
which have, in the course of their preparation widened the issue
from reaction to Able Archer to Soviet Union concern about a
surprise NATO attack.

2. As this change of emphasis indicates there are two policy
issues for consideration, both deriving from the evidence which
is quoted and evaluated. The first of these, the issue of per-
ceived [perceived] Soviet reactions and concerns about Western intentions,
is clearly extremely important: there inference to be drawn from
the evidence will need, evidently, careful consideration.

3. The other issue, that of the implications for NATO exercises,
is also extremely important and had I been commenting on that
aspect in relation to the previous draft I would have expressed
some scepticism of the need to curtail exercise activity on the
basis of ██████████████████ To continue on that point:
I do see some merit in discussing with Allies the possibility
proposed NATO exercise activity involving nuclear play, as a
useful confidence building measure.

4. Reverting to the point which is now primarily addressed in
the new JIC paper, for reasons I have briefly set out it
does seem to me terribly important █████████████████
██████████████████████████████ (though it
is fair to say that paragraph 10 – the conclusion of the paper –
is quite mild and balanced in tone).████████████████h
██████████████ Is sufficient attention given to the
fact that Soviet reactions to Able Archer ██████████████
███████ How should one evaluate overall the military evidence
to support the view that there are signs of heightened concern
in the Soviet Union about the West’s nuclear strike interventions?
5. Having said all this I do certainly very much agree with
last sentence of the paper.

6. Since I knew you were shortly to have your briefing for
tomorrow’s JIC I have taken the liberty of minuting you direct,
DUS(P) not at this moment being available.

AUS(D Staff)

E4 Loose Minute

Copy No 2 of Copies 3
21 March 1984

DIS(CS)DI(AG)1 (███████)

Copy to:
DS17 (█████)


A.   JIC(84)(n)45 (3rd Revised Draft) 20 Mar 84
B.   D/DIS(CS)12/1/2 20 Mar 84

1. Thank you for the opportunity to comment upon the latest
draft JIC paper on Soviet fears. My first and general comment
concerns the tenor of the paper which, I believe, still purports
to show a level of ████████████████████████████
████████████████████████ I would find the thrust of
the paper more persuasive ████████████████████████
███████████████████████████████████████ . I
therefore find the conclusion that there is genuine ████████

2. On points of detail I would make the following points:
a. Paragraph 1 line 1. After ‘definitive’ delete ‘tends
to’ insert ‘could’.
b. Paragraph 3 line 4. █████████████████████
c. Paragraph 5 lines 3 to 6. The two sentences
indicated are in part incorrect. Able Archer 1983
reflected changes in the detail rather than the substance
of procedures and included less rather than more
headquarters-to-subordinate commands messages.
d. Paragraph 6. The reference to Soviet reactions to
Able Archer are ██████████████████████

Lt Col
DPS(N)Team 2
21 Mar 84

E7 Annex A



4. Add at end of para:–
“wholly balanced picture: in particular the first
sentence of the concluding paragraph is considered
to be ██████████████████████████████

5. Second sentence. Amend to read:–
“I would therefore wholly endorse the final sentence
of the conclusions to the paper which propose further…”

6. Line 3. Amend to read:–
“….of each major exercise to…..”

Line 14. Spell “source”

8. Delete brackets. Amend to read:–

9a. Amend to read:
“…. tentative, and ██████ is sceptical of its
validity; we must….”

E9 Note

D/DS17/4/1 11/1/2

JIC(84)(N)45(3rd Revised Draft)
Soviet Union: Concern about a Surprise NATO attack

1. Our main concern with the paper as now
drafted is that it relies primarily █████████
████████████ .   ████████████████
████████████████████████ . It should
also be made clear in the conclusions that the we
have had ████████████████ of heightened
concern in the USSR about a surprise nuclear strike
of Soviet reactions to Able Archer ███████████
████████████ Paragraph 10 might therefore be
redrafted along the following lines:
██████████████ may reflect concern in the
Soviet Union that the West might initiate a
nuclear war and that this might be done through
a surprise attack under cover of an exercise.
We have ████████████████ of heightened
concern within the Soviet Union although some
of the Warsaw Pact reacted to Able Archer
may represent the take-up of limited and low key
precautions against a surprise attack. ██████
████████████████  .

2. Further comments on the text of the paper are:
Para 1 Suggest this is ███████████████
redrafted as ██████████████████████

Para 2 █████████████████████████
██████████████████ it is not clear from
the structure of the paper what the others are.

Para 3   It is not clear whether this paragraph
is ██████████. If it is at should from [illegible]
of para 26 and the phrase “in connection with
Able Archer” deleted. This exercise was not referred
to by name in the █████████

Para 4 Surely “corroborated” is far too strong.

Para 5 Some introduction is required to explain why
Able Archer is being considered in this report.

Para 6a Able Archer was not specified.

Para 6d It should be noted that there was increased ███
activity throughout 1983.

Para 9 Without more information there appears to
be no justification for the inclusion of this paragraph.


E10 Draft Minute from Sir Robert Armstrong

File 11/1/2

Soviet Union: Concern about a Surprise NATO Attack

Before the meeting of Ministers on 4 April to discuss
action which might be taken with the United States on the
evidence of Soviet concern about recent NATO military
exercises set out in JIC(84)(N)45, the Prime Minister may
wish to see the ████████████████████████

2. ████████████████████████████
███████████████ Its scenario, summarised
in paragraph 15 of the report, shows the concern of the
Soviet Union over a possible NATO surprise attack mounted
under cover of exercises –   █████████████████████
██████████████████████████ practice of NATO
nuclear release procedures in Able Archer. ██████████
███████ Able Archer-83, ███████      ██████████

3. All this contrasts with the Soviet response to Able
Archer-83, analysed in the JIC Note. That response does
not appear to have formed part of the Soviet exercise
programme ███████████████████████████
█████████████████████ it took place over a
major Soviet holiday, it had the form of actual military
activity and alerts, not just war-gaming, and it was
limited geographically to the area, Central Europe,
covered by the NATO exercise which the Soviet Union was

4. I am sending a copy of this minute to the Private
Secretaries of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary,
the Defence Secretary, the Lord President and the Home

E12 10 Downing Street Memo

Copy to:– PS/PUS
File 11/1/2
From the Private Secretary 10 April 1984
1. NA/DCDS/2
4. Hd of DCS(CS) – for disposal
5. ██████  1. AD(RG)  2. AGI
We don’t seem
to have got the
right [illegible] inspected


The Prime Minister held an ad hoc meeting today which
was attended by the Lord President, the Foreign and Commonwealth
Armstrong, ████████ and “C”.

The purpose of the meeting was to consider what action
should be taken about the conclusion of the Joint Intelligence
Committee in the JIC(84)(N)45 of 23 March, 1984 and in particular
the Committee’s conclusion ███████████████████████

The Prime Minister recalled the in her conversations with
Communist leaders, especially during her visit to Hungary, she has
tried to impress upon them the sincerity of the desire of the West
for disarmament and the fact the NATO was a defensive organis-
tion [organisation] which threatened no one. ████████████████
We should consider what could be done to remove the danger that,
by miscalculating Western intentions, the Soviet Union would

████████ explained that there had been some difference
of view in the JIC on the weight to be put on the Soviet reaction
Nevertheless, the Committee stood by its conclusions in the JIC
report under reference. And the unusual nature of the Soviet
reaction to Able Archer had been highlighted by a ████████
The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said that, taking
account of the evidence ██████████████████████
████████████████████████████████ he felt
that the JIC conclusions must be accepted. It was desirable to
discuss the conclusion with the US Government, ████████


██████ (the Prime Minister felt that insufficient attention might
have been paid to the significance of the latter point). On the
other hand, it was pointed out that the Russian had just notified
the United States for the first time of ICBM flights within the
Soviet Union.

Discussion then turned to the action to be taken on the
JIC report. It was agreed that officials should meet urgently to
consider the nature of an approach to the United States, including
the question of ████████████████████████████████
█████████████████████ The Foreign and Commonwealth
Secretary would discuss our concerns with ████████  at the two
meetings he expected to have with him in May. In preparation for
this, HM Ambassador, Washington, would be instructed to do over
the ground with the US State Department.

There was a more general need to continue and perhaps
intensify HMG’s efforts to promote an atmosphere of greater
confidence between East and West. The Minister for Trade would
go there in July for discussions with Mr. Gromyko and planned to
visit some of the Eastern European countries in September. It was
for consideration whether the Prime Minister should invite a senior
member of the Politbureau, perhaps Mr. Gorbachev, to visit this
country later in the year. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary
was invited to consider whether it would be wise to accelerate our
programme of contacts with the Soviet Union. The Prime Minister
stressed that we should seek to maintain the momentum created by
her own visit to Hungary and the Soviet Union.

I am copying this letter to ████████ (Lord
President’s Office), █████████████ (Ministry of Defence),
Sir Robert Armstrong, ████████ and “C”.

██████████████ Esq.,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

E13 Note

Copy No 3 of 4 Copies
PS/Secretary of State
Copy to:
AUS(D Staff)
Head of DS12
Head of DS17


Thank you for your minute MO14/10 of 27 March which [E6] sought
advice on the line which the Secretary of State might take at
the meeting which the Prime Minister has called on Wednesday,
4 April, to discuss JIC(84)(N)45.

2. Heightened Soviet concern about the possibility of a
surprise NATO attack would of course be a very proper cause
of concern for Western Governments. But it is I think necessary
to consider the strength of the available evidence and the
implications of possible NATO reactions carefully.

3. ███████████████████████████████████
████████████████ Soviet reactions to Exercise
ABLE ARCHER (an annual NATO command post exercise testing nuclear
procedures). ████████████████████████████
████████████████████████ Soviet reactions to
ABLE ARCHER ██████████████████████████

4. In the view of the Defence Intelligence Staff there is
certainly ████████████████████████████
████████████████████████ Furthermore the
report brings together ████████████████ which are
not necessarily related. We have reflected this ████ in JIC
discussion, and the present report reflects a compromise ███

5. These reservations notwithstanding, we clearly need to
guard against any possibility of Soviet misinterpretation,
however slight the evidence. I would therefore wholly endorse
the concluding final sentence of [the conclusion of] the paper which proposes further
“close examination of the degree and scope of Warsaw Pact
reactions to NATO nuclear exercises”. The Prime Minister will
however wish to consider whether any further steps need to be
taken to allay possible Soviet concerns.

6. ████████████████████████████████████
Exercise activity is however crucial not only to the effectiveness
of our political and military command structures, but also to
the credibility of deterrence. ████████████████████

7. There is however one possibility that clearly merits
discussion which might go some way to allaying possible Soviet
concern, and which is compatible both with deterrence and with
the Western position on confidence building measures, ie that
NATO should informs the Soviet Union on a routine basis of
proposed NATO exercise activity involving nuclear play.
Such an approach would be wholly consistent with Western efforts
in the CDE, and makes sense ███████████████████████

8. ███████████████████████████████████

9. Line to take In discussion, Secretary of State may wish to
make the following points:
a. ████████████████████████
b. exercise activity is a vital element of deterrence; ███
c. nonetheless we must view with unease any evidence,
████████ of heightened Soviet concern. ███████
d. there may also be considerable merit in discussing,
████████████████████████████████ the
possibility that NATO should inform the Soviet Union on
a routine basis of proposed NATO exercise activity involving
nuclear play, as a useful confidence building measure.


E14 Report

8 MAY 1984
Copy No 5 of 8


This paper considers whether specific option exist
for minimising the risk of Soviet misinterpretation of NATO
Command Post Exercises (CPXs), particularly nuclear ones.
Although it has been prepared in the context of an unprecedented
Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83 and other reports of alleged
concern about a surprise NATO attack (JIC(84)(N)45), the paper
examined the inherent advantages and disadvantages of prior
notification of nuclear CPXs as an overall Confidence Building
Measure (CBM).

2. ██████████████████████████████████████

3. Although the JIC reached no firm conclusion, we cannot
discount the possibility that at least some Soviet officials/
officers may have misinterpreted Able Archer 83 and possibly
other nuclear CPXs as posing a real threat. Quite apart from
their reaction to Able Archer and ██████████████████
████████████████████████████████ If their
response involves the taking of actual precautions against what
they judge to be threatening and ambiguous warning indicators,
should we seek to establish a system which makes the holding
of high level nuclear CPXs subject to an obligation to notify in
advance? Should the practice of promoting military transparency
through Confidence Building Measures be extended from field
exercises and the movement of actual forces to CPXs themselves?
Provided a proposal can be assembled which does not constrain
nuclear CPX activity, (which is militarily vital for the training
of commanders and their staffs in extremely complicated procedures)
could there be advantage in exploring this with the Russians? ████

4. While an element of uncertainty is implicit in the concept
of deterrence, it is assumed that there is mutual benefit in
ensuring that each side does not misconstrue the other’s CPXs as
posing a real threat. Since certain notification measures relating
to test ICBM launches already exist for reducing the possibility
of misinterpretation (SALT II, Chapter XVI) there seems no
inherent reason why similar procedures could not be devised
which extended to certain nuclear CPXs as well. Prior warning
of field exercises has become an accepted feature of the
conventional arms control process, and as such, could be capable
of expansion, although not perhaps within existing for (see
paragraph 7 below). It is for discussion whether notification
of nuclear CPXs would have to be balanced (the reciprocal nature
of conventional notification is an important factor which needs
to be taken into account) or whether notification might be
asymmetric or even unilateral.

5. It is also for discussion what CPXs might be notified and
the extent of information which might be provided. It may for
example be asked whether awareness of the existence of a nuclear
CPX would of itself generate confidence. In our view simple
notification could indeed be effective in reassuring the other
side if it was given sufficiently far in advance to make it clear
that such exercises formed a normal pattern of activity and
took place in relative isolation from the changing temperature
of political relationships between major powers. It might
prove possible to construct notification in such a way as to
avoid giving details of particular scenarios or inhibit in any
way US or NATO exercises.

6. Although the Russian appear to have reacted in an
unprecedented way to the NATO exercise Able Archer 83, ████
████████ This, coupled with the fact that the Soviet Union
is the only nuclear power in the Warsaw Pact, indicates
that super-power nuclear CPXs should form the centrepiece of any
notification procedure, supplemented perhaps on the West’s side
with notification of NATO-wide exercises involving a substantial
American nuclear role. We do not consider that every exercise
involving simulated nuclear release would require notification
████████████████ In the immediate future it might
be enough to attempt early discussions with the Russian. ██

7.  ████████████████████████████████
██████████████████████████ There may
be a requirement for speed ████████████████
███████ This effectively rules out most of the existing arms
control negotiations as suitable fora since discussion of CBMs
in any of these is likely to be unduly prolonged (MBFR),
complicated by an involvement of extraneous participants (CDE,
CSCE) or indefinitely delayed (START). A number of existing
bilateral US/USSR agreements theoretically provide a framework
(‘hotline’ agreements 1963/71, Article XVI of SALT II or
Prevention of Nuclear War Agreement 1973), but none of them seem
easily adaptable to current requirements.

8. An ad hoc forum may therefore be required. A special
contact between the US and the USSR seems the most practical
option in terms of speed, simplicity and security. Although it
was a NATO CPX about which the Soviets appear to have been
concerned, prior consultation within a NATO forum, ████████
████████████████████████ . Although we could
fully justify attempts to increase confidence about nuclear matters
and anticipate considerable support for such efforts, on balance
the search for CBMs is likely to be more effectively pursued ████
However recent experience suggests that a bilateral discussion
involving possible notification of NATO and US national nuclear
CPXs is unlikely to cause problems within the Alliance ██████
████████████████ strengthen the case for discussion
of CBMs relating to Command Post Exercises, specifically
nuclear ones, to be conducted bilaterally between the United
States and the Soviet Union. █████████████████████

9. The President’s Commission on Strategic Forces (the
Scowcroft Report, 21 March 1984) proposes a bilateral exchange
information between US and Soviet Defence officials about steps
which could be misconstrued as indications of an attack. The
Report proposes that a variety of measures should be constructed
to improve communication and predictability which would
‘contribute to stability by improving mutual understanding
and reducing surprise and misinterpretation’. It is our view
that ███████████████ should be acted upon
as soon as possible.

E15 Memo

4 May 84
Copy to:
PA/AUS(D Staff)
Head of DIS(CS)
Head of DS17


Earlier this month, the Secretary of State discussed a recent
JIC Report (JIC(84)(N)45) about Soviet reactions to Exercise
Able Archer 83 with the Prime Minister and the Foreign and
Commonwealth Secretary. At the conclusion of the meeting the
Prime Minsiter said that officials should urgently consider how
to approach the Americans on the question of possible Soviet
misapprehensions about a surprise NATO attack.

2. ██████ has now had a preliminary discussion with
█████████████████████████████████ who
confirmed that ███████████████████████████
the unusual Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83. █████████
██████████████████ about the conclusions reached in
JIC Report (JIC(84)(N)45), and we need to ensure that we are not
perceived in Washington as ████████████████████████
████████████████████████████ However, it may be
significant that, as a consequence of the JIC report, ██████████

3. We now need to put the discussion on to a more political level.
Whatever the reliability of the specific JIC assessment, its paper
has served as a catalyst for consideration of the inherent advantages
of agreeing some confidence building measures relating to nuclear
command post exercises along lines similar to those which already cover
some nuclear and conventional field exercises. FCO and MOD have
therefore agreed that attached paper setting out a number of themes
which would serve as a basis for more detailed discussion with the

4. If the Prime Minister agrees, it is our intention to pass this
paper urgently to the Americans and to aim at a detailed discussion
with US officials in mid-May, ideally before the Foreign Secretary
raises the matter himself with ██████ during the NATO Ministerial
meeting in Washington at the end of the month.

5. I would be grateful for the Secretary of State’s agreement for
the paper to go forward.


The Rationale Behind North Korean Nuclearization

A Primer on Pyongyang’s Nuclear History and the Ensuing Diplomatic Failures –

North Korea pursued nuclear weapons to ensure security in a hostile international environment. During the Cold War, the threat shifted from conventional military aggression to nuclear aggression. The security dilemma was at an unstable high as world superpowers sought nuclear arms as a means of deterrence through mutually assured destruction. Developing and demonstrating the use of nuclear weapons technology was considered the ultimate deterrence against military aggression from rival states; obtaining nuclear weapons also marked states as “relevant actors” in international security. Today, nuclear weapons in North Korea serve as a counter-balance to the presence of the US in the ROK and its nuclear umbrella.

In the early 1950s the Soviet “Atoms for Peace” initiative (modeled after Eisenhower’s program of the same name) allowed several hundred North Korean students and researchers to be trained and educated at Soviet universities and nuclear research centers. The USSR built nuclear research facilities in Yongbyon in the 1960s, and by the 1970s the North Korean specialists trained at these facilities were able to launch a civilian nuclear fuel cycle without external assistance. The DPRK’s first nuclear reactor, a 5 MWe gas-graphite reactor, became operational in 1986. The state then built fuel fabrication facilities and a large-scale reprocessing facility, which allowed for the extraction of plutonium which could potentially be weaponized. These facilities were not declared to or inspected by the IAEA, as North Korea was not yet a signatory of the NPT and was under no legal obligation to do so; it only joined in 1985 on the condition that the Soviets would provide Light Water Reactors (LWRs; a promise never fulfilled as the USSR collapsed). The hitherto secret facilities were seen from US reconnaissance satellites in the 1980s, and the images were leaked by the South Korean government in 1989, making the world aware of North Korea’s indigenous nuclear program.[1]

By 1992, North Korea was capable of facilitating a full plutonium fuel cycle: the 5 MWe gas-graphite reactor was producing electricity and heat for the local town, and approximately 6 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium (enough for one bomb) per year. Until then, North Korea would not allow IAEA and international inspectors into its facilities; however inspectors were given access to the facilities that year following the US withdraw of all nuclear weapons from the ROK. The IAEA found the facilities to be operational, with two larger gas-graphite reactors under construction. The IAEA noted discrepancies between their findings at Yongbyon and the information provided by Pyongyang; North Korea responded by announcing its intent to withdraw from the NPT. Negotiations were stalemated. In 1994, the DPRK extracted 20–30 kilograms of plutonium from its reactor, and tensions between Washington and Pyongyang rose until former US President Jimmy Carter negotiated a freeze.

Enter Agreed Framework: North Korea halted its nuclear program but expanded its missile program, firing a long-range missile over Japan in 1998. It was speculated that North Korea explored HEU and may have received centrifuge technology from Pakistan;[2] there is further evidence for these claims in the purchase of aluminum rods suitable for centrifuge rotors from Russia and an attempted purchase from Germany. Members of the US Congress during the Clinton administration disagreed with the provisions of the framework, arguing that it rewarded bad behavior; because funding was withheld for key provisions of the agreement, the US fell behind on its commitments early on. In 2002, the Bush administration accused North Korea of illegally pursuing a HEU program; Pyongyang responded by withdrawing of the NPT, expelling all IAEA inspectors, and continuing their then-halted enriched plutonium program. It has since been suggested that these allegations were largely unfounded, and it is highly unlikely that the DPRK had a HEU nuclear plant even if materials for production-scale uranium were present in the country.

In February 2005, North Korea announced that it had developed nuclear weapons. On 19 September 2005, the DPRK agreed to readmit IAEA inspectors, and dismantle its nuclear arsenal and WMD program in exchange for LWRs to replace indigenous North Korea nuclear power plants as per the Agreed Framework. This issue was tabled, and the following day North Korea announced that until the agreed LWRs were provided it would not dismantle its nuclear program or rejoin the NPT.

Following the NPT withdrawal, North Korea joined the Six Party Talks under pressure from Beijing. Though heralded as a diplomatic breakthrough at the time, the Talks yielded no progress until the fifth round in 2007 when North Korea agreed to denuclearize in exchange for fuel aid and normalized relations with the US and Japan. However, this progress was lost after the UNSC’s Presidential Statement condemning the DPRK’s failed satellite launch in 2009; North Korea quickly declared that it would be pulling out of the Talks and intended on resuming its nuclear program to increase its deterrent.

North Korea is not irrational in its actions: the Songun military policy which prioritizes obtaining a nuclear deterrent above all else was born out of a hostile Cold War environment as a means to protect its statehood. In an anarchical international system, ensuring state survival is the most rational action to be taken.

[1] Andrew Mack. International Herald Tribune (Paris), 1990-01-08.
[2] Pervez Musharraf. In The Line of Fire: A Memoir, Free Press, New York NY, 2006.