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All too often the Arctic region is portrayed as an area on the cusp of military crisis. This is an easy narrative to sell; it harks back to the Cold War. Potent imagery persists of submarines trolling silently beneath the Arctic ice and nuclear ballistic missiles pointed across the North Pole.
During the height of the standoff between NATO and the USSR, the world feared a barrage of nuclear warheads streaming in from the frozen north – and this experience has imprinted on the collective imagination and created distinct ideas about the region. This fear, for example, motivated from the 1950s the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Lines, a system of radar stations across the northern US (Alaska), Canada, and Greenland. The DEW Lines were meant to give the US and its NATO allies an early warning of an incoming Soviet nuclear strike.
The Cold War was a significant period in history. But catchy headlines playing off the parallels between the region and a new “cold” war are misleading. There have, of course, been increased tensions between the West and Russia since 2014 due to the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea. The 2018 Trident Juncture exercises in the Arctic, featuring “50,000 personnel from NATO Allies and partner countries”, are evidence of this. But the tension is not Arctic-specific and militaries are diverse actors in the region. This nuance, however, is often overlooked.
Current military exercises and equipment acquisitions fuel old Cold War perceptions. And a certain militarisation is indeed occurring in the Arctic. Russia, for example, has recently invested heavily in updating its northern military infrastructure. So too have other Arctic states, such as Canada and Denmark. But military activity has, to varying degrees, occurred for decades in the north – it was just largely ignored by those not living there until recently.
The Arctic states guard their land and waterways through aerial, submarine and surface ship patrols, much as they have done for years. This hardly constitutes an escalation of military tensions, even if the infrastructure is being updated and, in some cases, increased. Despite this, talk of a new Cold War is heating up.
A nation’s armed forces often play a range of roles – beyond their traditional responsibilities in armed conflict. They are useful for rapid response during disasters, for example, and provide a range of security roles that don’t necessarily mean an escalation to war. They offer search and rescue (SAR) services and policing support.
In Norway, for example, the coastguard is one of the branches of the navy, along with the armed fleet, the naval schools and the naval bases. In Denmark, meanwhile, the coastguard’s Arctic activities are managed by the Royal Danish Navy.
In Canada, the coastguard is a civilian organisation. It “is the principal civilian maritime operational arm of the government of Canada”. But it also works closely with the Department of National Defence to provide Canada’s search and rescue services, including aerial support.
The US coastguard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which “secures the nation’s air, land, and sea borders to prevent illegal activity while facilitating lawful travel and trade”. By law, however, the US coastguard is outside the Department of Defence “in peacetime and is poised for transfer to the Department of the Navy during war”.
Because of affiliations such as these, the line between military and civilian activity can become blurred. But that doesn’t mean all military activity is hostile or equates to an escalation towards war.
Climate change and technological advances have begun to open up the Arctic. And this means that more policing is required in a region that is remote and often out of reach for traditional police forces.
Other issues are also arising from climate change, such as increased forest fires. In July 2018, Sweden suffered major forest fires. As part of its effort to combat the fires it deployed “laser-guided bombs to douse forest fires”. This initiative was led by the Swedish air force. By using laser bombs, the “shockwaves simply blew out the flames in the same way our breath does to candles”.
As the region’s economic activity expands, armed forces are also being asked to assist more with civilian issues. In 2017, for example, the Norwegian coastguard was called in by local police in Tromsø to help police Greenpeace protesters who had entered a 500-metre safety zone around the Songa Enabler rig in an effort to stop drilling in the Korpfjell field of the Barents Sea. The Norwegian coastguard vessel, KV Nordkapp, responded, resulting in the seizure of Grenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship and the arrest of all 35 people on board.
Given the Arctic’s growing economic potential, military infrastructure is getting more attention. Russia, in particular, has made it clear that with economic potential on the line in the Arctic, a military build up is essential. For Russia, Arctic resources are central to the country’s economic security so the government line is: “National security in the Arctic requires an advanced naval, air force and army presence.” But issues of national security are wide ranging and are not solely a matter of building capacity to defend oneself from or in war.
Overall, it is vital to remember that while militaries are tools of war, they are not just tools of war. They also contribute to and provide a wide range of security services. This does not mean that increased military spending and activities should not be viewed with a critical eye. Indeed, they should. But discussing “a new Cold War” is sensationalist. It detracts from the broader roles that militaries play throughout the Arctic and stokes the very tensions it warns of.
“Please drink responsibly” is a familiar plea to those who might be inclined to consume alcohol, and we are also reminded to “gamble responsibly”, a timely reminder during a busy period for Premier League football, full of fixtures and plenty of casual fans with time on their hands.
You can make a reasonable judgement about responsible drinking by using the percentage alcohol by volume (ABV) information on the label of whichever bottle has been opened. But how can we determine the strength of a football bet?
In fact, “gambling harm” can also be approximated by a percentage. The “gamblers’ losses” percentage is a measure of the money bet that a gambler will lose in the long term. Short term randomness around this percentage is what makes gambling interesting – but over longer time periods, gamblers will lose this percentage of all the money they bet.
We think most people probably have no idea of what percentage of all money bet is lost across different football bets. So we looked at eight seasons of Premier League betting odds and results using machine learning.
Machine learning allowed us to simulate three potential human betting strategies over long periods of time. One “random” strategy effectively simulated the risks of throwing darts at a set of betting odds. By comparison, a “most-skilled” strategy carefully studied the betting odds and results for three whole seasons before judiciously selecting the best bet it could find for each match.
We also looked at the returns of a strategy that deliberately tried to be as unskilled as possible. The “least-skilled” strategy chose what might be thought of as the worst case scenario for each match. This mirrors the returns of someone who is not merely unlucky, but is unskilled (and who may benefit from more help and advice). Any differences between these three strategies reflect the role of skill in Premier League football betting.
The risks varied based on both the type of bet chosen and the specific betting strategy used. When simulating the returns of a given bet of, say £1, we found that the gamblers’ losses percentage varied by a factor of 54. Using the drinking comparison, this is like the difference between a 1% reduced strength lager and a strong bottle of whisky.
Some of the highest risks came from betting on the correct score, a bet with pretty high odds, which you might have seen the actor Ray Winstone offering on British television over Christmas. For example, Manchester City to win 3-1, might have odds of 9/1, meaning every £1 bet wins £9 if Manchester City win by that score line.
We found that that just randomly selecting correct score bets would hit you with a strong average loss of 34.3%. But the worse case scenario was a whopping average loss of 58.9%, which came when the least skilled strategy picked very high correct scores (such as the away team winning by four goals to nil). Of course, sometimes bets at high odds pay off. But overall, these figures mean that for every £100 bet, on average the gambler lost £34.30 and £58.90 for their betting strategies.
Luckily there are two tips that gamblers can do to keep their losses within reasonable limits.
The first tip is to select types of bets with relatively low odds. The bookmakers love advertising correct score bets, for example, because these bets offer high odds if gamblers guess the correct score.
But one bet with lower odds is what we call a “home-draw-away” bet, either betting on Manchester City to win, a draw, or the away team to win. Here the random strategy returned average percentage losses of 8.7%, so nearly four times less than randomly choosing correct score bets.
The second tip is to select bets with relatively low odds within a given bet type. Manchester City are usually expected to win by the bookmakers, and at the time of writing, betting £1 on them to win their recent match against Southampton gave a potential win of £1.27 if successful. By comparison, a £1 bet on Southampton to triumph would return £11 if successful.
Many gamblers might get excited by those higher odds on Southampton winning. But across each bet type, bets at low odds had the lowest average losses for gamblers. If a bet has odds that seem too high to be true, it probably is a bad bet on average.
The gambling industry recently announced that it will stop showing gambling advertising pre-watershed, starting from summer 2019. So promoting betting odds on TV during the football will soon become a thing of the past.
But the industry is currently spending five times as much on online marketing (£1.2 billion) as on its total TV advertising spend. This online marketing is largely hidden to anyone who is not targeted to receive these messages.
We believe that the very high differences in product risk across football bets should at least be communicated in some way to consumers. While further research should investigate how best to educate football fans about these different risks, reminders to just “gamble responsibly” won’t cut it.
Consumers need to be told about the risks of football bets with high odds.
The debate around the UK’s level of involvement in the EU single market after Brexit may lead to a significant u-turn in government policy. Having initially said it would not seek a customs union with the EU after Brexit (after leaving the full, existing customs union), it looks as though the UK government’s position is softening. Given the alternatives to the single market that are available to the UK, a potential u-turn is welcome.
Leaving the single market but agreeing to a customs union doesn’t rule out the UK making its own trade deals. However, it should be careful what it wishes for. Freedom comes at a price. A customs union only covers trade in goods, so the UK would need an umbrella agreement to cover its other arrangements with the EU.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) sets out the basics in Article XXIV of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In essence, a customs union is where tariffs are removed between members of the union, and the tariffs charged on imports coming from outside the union are harmonised across members of the union. This definition seems straightforward but when you dig deeper into Article XXIV, you find that while these rules apply to trade in goods, they say nothing about services – which are of course very important for the UK.
The text is also quite vague about the products that should be covered by the customs union, stating only that “substantially all trade” should be included. Of course, as soon as you start excluding products from your customs union, then borders with frictions, such as border checks, start to emerge. Therefore, the issue of whether any agreed customs union would be complete needs careful consideration. However, it’s clear that the WTO rules are too vague for anyone to claim that the UK cannot create an incomplete customs union if the EU agrees.
What we know is that an incomplete customs union, where product coverage is less than 100% or trade policies are not fully harmonised, could give the UK more freedom to sign its own trade deals. Turkey, an example of a country in an incomplete customs union with the EU, has a number of Free Trade Agreements with non-EU countries. However, if the UK steps outside the EU Customs Union and creates an incomplete UK-EU Customs Union, then embarks on signing new trade deals, there would need to be rules agreed regarding the coexistence of trade agreements. In simple terms, when the clauses in different trade deals start to conflict with each other, there will need to be a way to resolve these disputes.
Is all this freedom a good thing? It would take the UK further away from the complete customs union, which is the desire of Brexit supporters. However, signing even very simple trade deals will require considerable capacity and time, with the potential for significant delays even between signing and implementation. The EU also already has a long list of arrangements in place. Those with Japan and Mexico are the most recent examples. The UK is likely to find it harder to make deals when outside a large trade block. Furthermore, signing free trade agreements with non-EU countries would not compensate for losses due to new trade barriers against the EU countries.
Staying close to the EU may also protect the UK from the US government’s trade wars in crucial markets such as metals, fuels and chemicals. As the EU demonstrated in the case of the steel dispute, it can successfully negotiate exemptions from the new protectionist US tariffs. The UK, acting alone, may not have enough economic and political weight to do the same.
An incomplete customs union with the EU will be a step towards minimising the losses of Brexit, while giving opportunities to negotiate new free trade agreements related to particular goods. UK manufacturers selling final goods (transport, electrical equipment, computers, for example) to the EU, depend on the supply of intermediate goods (components for that electrical equipment and computers) from the EU in the first place. If even moderate tariffs are imposed, the flow of intermediate goods from the EU may come to a halt. If agricultural goods are excluded from the new UK-EU customs union, it opens up further possibilities for negotiating new free trade agreements with non-EU countries.
And since the customs union option doesn’t cover services, one option would be to have a broader umbrella agreement, perhaps an economic integration agreement, to also cover services.
A customs union in itself, and certainly one that gives the UK the flexibility to sign its own trade deals with non-EU countries, would not automatically solve the Irish border issue – a complete customs union (going further than even the WTO definition) would be a prerequisite for that. The political compromises, which are being discussed within the Conservative party, suggest a complete customs union is most unlikely. Therefore, even if a u-turn is forthcoming, many other challenges remain.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
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