Thursday, June 21, 2018

NATO Expansionism - Building Fortress Europe and Preparing for War

NATO's member states met in Belgium in early June 2018 and made a rather profound change to how the group will function.  Here are the key details that are being put into place to deter a "resurgent Russia" by building a Western European fortress.

According to an early May 2018 news item from Radio Free Europe (the international propaganda arm of Washington), the U.S. Pentagon is launching a new naval command to increase trans-Atlantic security.  Here is a quote from Johnny Michael, Spokesperson at the Office of the Secretary of Defense:

"The return to great power competition and a resurgent Russia demands that NATO refocus on the Atlantic to ensure dedicated reinforcement of the continent and demonstrate a capable and credible deterrence effect."

Here is the news release from the U.S. Department of Defense:

According to Johnny Michael, the new NATO command will be the "...linchpin of trans-Atlantic security".

Here is a quote from another Radio Free Europe news item from an interview with General Petr Pavel, the Chairman of NATO's Military Committee:

"Pavel said Russia was the greatest danger to "the security of Western countries and the model of society that we have."

He said Russia's hybrid war against the West was a "crawling threat that is beneath the surface and it is gaining more and more ground and that's why it's so important to disclose, name it by its proper names, and react to it with the appropriate tools."

Pavel said he did not think NATO is losing the information war with Russia. But he admitted the alliance was "probably late to recognize" aggressive Russian behavior for what it was.

He said Moscow takes advantage of the multitude of freedoms in Western society, something not possible in Russia's tightly controlled atmosphere. That, he said, put Western cyber-countermeasures at a disadvantage.

"Russia does not hesitate to abuse all of these freedoms to exert more influence using all methods, those that are legal and including those that are beyond legality," Pavel said.

The NATO general also discounted a recent think-tank report that concluded Russia sharply cut its military budget in 2017.

"I don't think that we should make defense spending a major element of our calculus," he said. "We have to look -- especially us in uniform -- at real capabilities. Russian military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear, are significant."

Pavel appeared untroubled by Russian President Vladimir Putin's bold presentation of a host of new weapon systems during his state-of-the-union address in March.

"I don't want to underestimate [the] Russian capability to develop new weapons and come up with new technologically advanced systems," he said. "But the way of presenting these new developments was much more to impress [the] population in Russia and to deliver [a] limited deterrence message to the opponents."

To underline his point, he said, "The presentation used by President Putin was mostly for local consumption.""

With that background, let's look at a more recent development.  At the aforementioned early June 2018 meeting of NATO's defence ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the following statements in a post-meeting press conference:

"Now, what we have done is that we have adapted NATO and the NATO defence posture in many different ways and we have done it step by step.  And this is partly about increasing the forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, in the Baltic countries and Poland, but we also have what we call a tailored forward presence in the Black Sea region.  Then, the main focus now is… has been on our ability to reinforce. And that is partly linked to the tripling of the size of the NATO Response Force, but also related to what we agreed yesterday, to have what we call the four 30s, 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, 30 battleships, ready within 30 days or less.  They of course can move in any direction, depending on where there is a need, in the south or in the east or wherever.  So, this is about NATO's ability to respond to threats and challenges coming from… or stemming from any direction.  So, this is about NATO's deterrence and defence.  We have increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, but we have also increased our ability to move in all directions if needed.

Then on military mobility, which is actually linked to that.  To be sure that we are able to reinforce, we have to be able to move forces, and therefore much of what we now do is linked to that by, for instance establishing the new Atlantic Command, the new Support Command in Europe, which will plan exercise for the movement of forces, for reinforcements, but also military mobility, which is very much linked to infrastructure, but also to remove legal hindrances, customs, bureaucracies, so we can easily move forces across Europe. It should be easy to move forces from Toulouse to Tallinn, if needed.  And what we have done now is that we have started the process.  The EU has put forward an action plan with also some funding for investing in infrastructure.  It's important that those investments, in bridges, in roads and tunnels, are coherent with the needs for moving NATO military equipment, personnel.  And therefore, I also shared with President Juncker and President Tusk the NATO requirements and the EU and NATO are now working together, staff-to-staff level, to make sure that what we do on military mobility is fully coherent." (my bold)

To aid in this rapid deployment of combat units across the Atlantic Ocean, two new headquarters will be built.  One will be located in Norfolk, Virginia and a new Joint Support Enabling Command (JSEC) will be built in Ulm, Germany.  The new JSEC will be responsible for movement of troops and materiel and the coordination of protection for Europe.  It is hoped that the new system will be operationally ready by the end of 2021.  Here's what appeared on the Facebook page of the German Delegation to NATO regarding the JSEC:

There is another interesting aspect to this buildup to war.  On June 6, 2018, the European Commission made this announcement:

"As part of the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the European Commission is today proposing to renew the 'Connecting Europe Facility', with a budget of €42.3 billion to support investments in the European infrastructure networks for transport (€30.6 billion), energy (€8.7 billion) and digital (€3 billion)."

Note the €30.6 billion or $35.42 billion (US) investment in transportation networks.  Here's further information on exactly what that investment involves:

"For the first time ever, the Connecting Europe Facility will also support civilian-military dual use transport infrastructure with €6.5 billion. The objective is to adapt Europe's transport network to military requirements and to improve military mobility in the EU. This will make an important contribution to a fully-fledged Defence Union by 2025, which is a political priority of this Commission. Today's proposal delivers on the Joint Communication from November 2017 and Action Plan from March 2018." (my bold)

Basically, at least part of the €30.6 billion being invested in Europe's transportation infrastructure is being spent to assist troops and materiel in moving around Europe in the event of a military confrontation as part of the EC's planned "Defense Union" which it hopes will be in place by 2025 as shown here:

"Today's Action Plan builds on the Roadmap on Military Mobility developed in the framework of the European Defence Agency. Concrete actions are proposed in the following areas:

Military requirements: This is the starting point for an effective and coordinated approach to military mobility across the EU. The European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EU Military Staff will develop military requirements, which reflect the needs of the EU and its Member States, including the infrastructure needed for military mobility. The Council is invited to consider and validate those military requirements by mid-2018.

Transport infrastructure: Infrastructure policy and investments offer opportunities for more synergies between civilian and military needs. By 2019, the Commission will identify the parts of the trans-European transport network suitable for military transport, including necessary upgrades of existing infrastructure (e.g. the height or the weight capacity of bridges). A priority list of projects will be drawn up. The Commission will take into account possible additional financial support for these projects in the next multiannual financial framework.

Regulatory and procedural issues: The Commission will look at options to streamline and simplify customs formalities for military operations and assess the need to align rules for the transport of dangerous goods in the military domain. In parallel, the European Defence Agency will support Member States in developing arrangements on cross-border movement permissions."

As you can see from the various sources that I have quoted in this posting, Europe is bracing for war, most likely a conflict with Russia.  Tens of billions of euros/dollars are being spent in an effort to create "Fortress Europe" to protect its eastern flank from a Russian incursion.  While the number of troops involved in the "Four 30's" plan by NATO is insufficient as an offensive force, it certainly sends a message that a conflict with Russia is expected, most likely over the Baltic nations.  On the upside, just think of the money that is pouring into the American defence business! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Who Backs Israel?

Given the growing religious/political divide in the United States, a poll taken by Pew is particularly pertinent, especially given the recent activities in Israel and the Gaza.  The white evangelical backing of Donald Trump and his agenda for the Middle East is striking but, for those of us who grew up in an Evangelical ecosystem, not terribly surprising.  What is surprising is the level of support for the state of Israel, particularly when one looks at a comparison between the levels of support from the American Christian community and the American Jewish community.

Here is what Pew found regarding American attitudes toward the existence of Israel as a nation given to the Jewish people by God based on religious affiliation, noting that the numbers don't always add up to 100 percent because some respondents declined to answer or said that they "didn't know":

American Jewish respondents:

1.) Jews of all types - 40 percent yes, 27 percent no

2.) Religious Jews - 47 percent yes, 27 percent no

3.) Non-religious Jews - 16 percent yes, 27 percent no

4.) Ultra-orthodox Jews - 81 percent yes, 13 percent no

5.) Modern orthodox Jews - 90 percent yes, 5 percent no

6.) Conservative Jews - 54 percent yes, 25 percent no

7.) Reform Jews - 35 percent yes, 35 percent no

American Non-Jewish respondents:

1.) Non-Jews as a whole - 44 percent yes, 34 percent no

2.) Christians overall - 55 percent yes, 32 percent no

3.) Protestants overall - 64 percent yes, 26 percent no

4.) White Evangelicals - 82 percent yes, 12 percent no

5.) White Mainline - 47 percent yes, 37 percent no

6.) Black Protestant - 51 percent yes, 39 percent no

7.) Catholics overall - 38 percent yes, 45 percent no

8.) White, Non-Hispanic Catholics - 34 percent yes, 51 percent no

9.) Unaffiliated - 16 percent yes, 37 percent no.

It is interesting to see the wide-ranging relationship between religious affiliation and the belief in the God-given right of the Jewish possession of Israel.  At 82 percent, white evangelical Christians' support for the Jewish possession of their birthright is higher than for any other religious group other than modern orthodox Jews and is nearly twice the level of religious Jewish support for the concept of a God-given promise of a Jewish homeland.

If we look at another aspect of support for Israel, when asked if American support for the state of Israel is sufficient, 54 percent of Jews say that support for Israel is "about right" and 31 percent say that it is not sufficient.  In contrast, only 31 percent of white evangelical Protestants feel that American support for Israel is "about right" and 46 percent say that the United States is not supportive enough of Israel.

Lastly, when asked if there is the possibility of a peaceful two-state solution (i.e. Palestine and Israel coexisting peacefully), 61 percent of Jewish Americans say yes and 33 percent say no.  In contrast, only 42 percent of white evangelical American Protestants say yes and 50 percent say that a peaceful solution is not possible.

Given that white evangelical Protestant support for Donald Trump and, by extension, his agenda for Israel is at an all-time high as shown here:

...and that 69 percent would prefer Trump as the presidential candidate in the 2020 presidential election, one would think that Israel has it made.  Unfortunately for the pro-Israel cause, the religious landscape of America is changing with the percentage of evangelical Christians in America dropping by 3.4 percent over the years between 2007 and 2014, now representing only one in four Americans.  As well, the demographics of evangelical Christianity are changing significantly; in 2007, only 19 percent of evangelical Protestants were racial and ethnic minorities compared to 24 percent in 2014.  This demographic change within the evangelical movement could play a significant role in how voters view Washington's preferential treatment of Israel and its status as the God-designated home for Jews since a majority of these voters tend to avoid voting Republican.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Russia and China - The Growing Alliance under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

While the so-called "advanced economies" of the world, the G7 or G6+1, were squabbling over trade issues with the world's dominant economy, the United States, on the other side of the globe, the world's other economies were getting down to business and giving us a sense of who will dominant the global economy in the future.

Let's start with a brief introduction.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was announced on June 15, 2001 and its charter was entered into force on September 19, 2003.   The original members included the People's Republic of China, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation.  In 2017, both India and Pakistan were granted status as full members.  There are also four observer states; Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia.  There are six dialogue partners; Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

Here is a map showing the member nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, showing their close geographic proximity:

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has the following goals:

"1.) strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states

2.) promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas

3.) making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region

4.) moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order"

The supreme decision-making body in the organization is the Heads of State Council or HSC.  The HSC meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on important matters of the organization.  

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO met in Qingdao in China in early June 2018 with the following key political figures in attendance:

Prime Minister of the Republic of India Narendra Modi

President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev

President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping

President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbay Jeenbekov

President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon

President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

There were other key figures in attendance including the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, the President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, the President of Belarus Alexander Lukshenko and the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed among others.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization also seeks to cooperate with other international and regional organizations including the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations among others.

At the two-day meeting which was pretty much ignored by the Western media, the member nations signed a key political document, the Joint Communique of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Simplifying Trade Procedures.  Here is the document in its entirety:

As you can clearly see, the SCO's member states are attempting to simplify trade procedures by decreasing customs formalities on imports and exports and on goods that are in transit as part of the group's move to further develop mutual trade among member states, a logical move given their close geographic proximity.  Given the recent trade actions by the United States against its largest trading partners (after all, "trade wars are easy to win") and the ongoing sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, this approach to international trade and cooperation is rather unique. 

As I noted above, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping took part in the meeting of the Council of SCO Heads of State and gave a speech at the expanded format meeting of the SCO's Heads of State Council.  Here are some excerpts from his wide-ranging speech on the trade ties between the members of SCO:

"An important track of SCO activity is the development of mutually beneficial economic ties between our countries. Trade and investment are gaining momentum. We are simplifying the mutual availability of goods and services, improving customs regulations, eliminating unnecessary administrative barriers, and implementing joint projects in energy, transport and agriculture.

We are working on several integration initiatives between our countries. In May, a cooperation agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and China was signed in Astana, Kazakhstan. It is important to take additional steps that would lead to increased coordination in the implementation of trade, investment and infrastructure projects through the EAEU and China’s Belt and Road programme. Russia and China are also preparing an agreement on the Eurasian Economic Partnership, which, of course, will be open to all the SCO countries."

Here is a transcript of the speech given by Chinese President Xi Jinping:

"Over the past 17 years, guided by the SCO Charter and the Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Between the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, we have forged a constructive partnership featuring non-alliance, non-confrontation and not targeting any third party. In doing so, we have achieved a major breakthrough in the theories and practices of international relations, created a new model for regional cooperation, and made new contribution to peace and development in our region.

Today, the SCO stands as a comprehensive regional cooperation organization that covers the largest area and population in the world. Its members account for about 20 percent of the global economy and 40 percent of its population. The SCO has four observer states and six dialogue partners as well as extensive cooperation linkages with the United Nations and other international and regional organizations. With its eve- rising international influence, the SCO has become an important force for promoting global peace and development and upholding international justice and fairness…

The Shanghai Spirit is our shared asset, and the SCO is our shared home. We should, guided by the Shanghai Spirit, work closely to build an SCO community with a shared future, move toward a new type of international relations, and build an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity."

The co-operative sentiment of both of these speeches is in sharp contrast to the tensions and the message of "it's our way or the highway" that was the underlying tone of the G7 summit.  It is also key to note that the member states of SCO account for 40 percent of the world's total population.

According to the Asia Times, Russia and China partnered with Rosatom to get advanced nuclear technologies and diversify nuclear power contracts outside of China's current Western suppliers.  As well, Russia, China and Mongolia negotiated a trilateral deal that will see Mongolia act as a transit hub for pipelines that will deliver Russian gas to China.  This is in addition to the 2.7 fold increase of container traffic along the route of China - Mongolia - Russia to Europe over the first quarter of this year.   China and Russia will also partner to develop the Northern Sea Route which will involve the modernization of deep water ports in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.  

From what the world saw reported from the dysfunctional G7 (or G6+1) summit, the infighting seven member group clearly represents the "old order", the way that political and economic business was done when Europe and North America were in charge of the global economy.  With the rise of the East as represented by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in particular Russia and China, it is quite clear that there is a new global reality and that the political and economic leadership template of the past is just that, the past.  It is also clear that the sanctions imposed by the West against the so-called Axis of Evil will become increasingly ineffective as North Korea, Iran and Russia look outside of the West as their source of economic well-being.