Showing posts with label Nato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nato. Show all posts

January 28, 2019

Congress Trying to Save NATO from TRUMP (and Putin)


The idea that the United States could withdraw from NATO is surreal.

The alliance, now numbering 29 countries, has been the foundation of trans-Atlantic stability and prosperity for seven decades. It continues to keep a predatory Russia at bay and diminish the danger that American soldiers might once again have to fight on European soil.

Yet in Donald Trump’s go-it-alone presidency, the possibility of America’s withdrawal has become such a concern that Congress is taking steps to prevent it.

The Democratic-led House on Jan. 22 voted 357-22 for a bipartisan bill that would tie Mr. Trump’s hands by refusing him any federal money to pay the costs of leaving the alliance.

The Republican-led Senate should quickly follow, either approving the House measure or a separate bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators that requires Mr. Trump to obtain approval from two-thirds of the Senate to “suspend, terminate or withdraw U.S. membership in NATO.” If the president refused to abide by a Senate vote preserving NATO membership, the bill would then prohibit the use of federal funds for withdrawal. 

It seems obvious that leaving NATO would be a foreign policy debacle, eroding American influence in Europe and emboldening Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, who wants to weaken NATO so he can expand his political and military sway.

Despite all that, there is no sign that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, would stop such a move if Mr. Trump were to make it, as he has repeatedly threatened to do. 

Mr. Trump’s own skepticism has long been apparent. He has questioned the alliance’s purpose and hectored the allies to pay more for defense. Spending has risen, but it also rose under Mr. Trump’s predecessors, who urged greater military spending but never wavered in their commitment to NATO.

Now the threat is growing: Several times last year, the president privately told senior administration officials that he wanted to withdraw from NATO, viewing it as a drain on the United States.

Wisely, his national security team, especially then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, stopped him. But Mr. Mattis recently resigned with a parting rebuke about the importance of alliances. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the national security adviser, are viewed as NATO supporters, neither has shown the sort of backbone Mr. Mattis did. 

An ominous sign was Mr. Pompeo’s recent Fox News interview in which he was asked if the United States would send soldiers to defend NATO member Montenegro. Mr. Pompeo replied, “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.” Except it’s not a hypothetical. Under the treaty’s Article 5, NATO members pledge to defend fellow members if they are attacked.

Can the Trump administration be counted on or not? The president has already pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and he is threatening to ditch the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Whether lawmakers have the power or the spine to override or prevent a decision by Mr. Trump to end the nation’s NATO commitments remains an open question. Many legal scholars say he can pull out of treaties unilaterally without Congress’s consent, but others say Congress has made clear that NATO is different. It’s time for Congress to pre-empt any possible debate about this question.

The House voted overwhelmingly to block President Trump’s threat to quit the Atlantic alliance. The Senate should promptly follow suit.

By The Editorial Board....The New York Times
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

June 30, 2018

Trump Trashed NATO At G7 Summit "NATO is as Bad as NAFTA"

You've already read a hundred stories about President Trump's clashes with some of America's closest allies at the G7 summit in Canada. But we've got new details from his private conversations with heads of state that have put some of these leaders on edge leading into next month's NATO summit. 
What we're hearing: In one extraordinary riff during his meeting with the G7 heads of state earlier this month in Quebec, Trump told the other leaders: "NATO is as bad as NAFTA." An official read this quote to me from notes transcribed from the private meeting.

Behind the scenes: Trump made the comment after telling the G7 leaders that Crimea probably should belong to Russia because everyone there speaks Russian, the source added. Trump then went on his usual riff about Germany not paying its fair share of defense spending, said the Europeans weren't paying enough and that the U.S. is being ripped off.
  • Then Trump said of the NATO Summit on July 11-12 in Brussels: "It will be an interesting summit. NATO is as bad as NAFTA. It's much too costly for the U.S."
Why this matters: NATO member states are worried about Russian aggression and they want an unambiguous sign that America has their back. By linking NATO to NAFTA — a trade deal that Trump considers an unmitigated disaster for America — Trump reinforced some of the Europeans' worst fears that he'll take a purely transactional approach to next month's summit. 
  • Officials from four NATO member countries have told me they're worried Trump undercut the shared values and commitments of the NATO alliance by spending most of his time bashing NATO members for not "paying enough" and meeting their defense spending commitments.
  • Trump is broadly correct about the defense spending. Many NATO members have been shirking their responsibilities and are nowhere near their promise to spend 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product on defense.
  • But, as one senior European official put it to me: Trump could do a victory lap of sorts at next month's summit, instead of bashing NATO members (which would please Putin.) 
  • Trump, the official said, could point out that NATO members have been increasing their defense spending, and say that it's only because of his pressure. The official said he hoped — but wasn't confident — Trump would take this gentler, more diplomatic route. 
When Axios shared this reporting with the White House, officials did not attempt to deny these specific comments that were relayed from notes from the G7 heads of state meeting. But NSC spokesman Garrett Marquis said: “The president engaged in a constructive dialogue with his counterparts at G7. Any allegations otherwise are simply wrong.”
1 fun thing: In the same meeting, Trump cracked to the leaders about what was then his upcoming Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un. "It's like baseball," Trump told the G7 leaders, according to the source reading from the meeting notes. "You never know if you are going to hit the ball."
Go deeper: 

March 22, 2017

Trump Orders Tillerson to Skip NATO Meeting and Head to Moscow

America's smaller European allies have expressed concern about President Donald Trump's mixed signals on the U.S. commitment to protect them from Russia.

The uncertainty threatened to deepen this week when U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to skip what would have been his first official meeting with NATO in April. On Tuesday, the State Department said Tillerson has a scheduling conflict and suggested alternative dates that morning.

Moving the date would require a 28-nation consensus. A NATO official told NBC News “we are in contact with the State Department on scheduling." 
A State Department spokesman confirmed to NBC News that Tillerson will travel later in the month to a series of unspecified meetings in Russia.

Tillerson's trip to Moscow was not confirmed by the Russian side. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on her official Facebook page that "we will not be confirming or denying this information at this stage."

The last time a secretary of state did not attend a NATO foreign ministerial meeting was in 2003.

But acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tillerson would meet with all of the alliance's members Wednesday when the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS gathers in Washington. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will also attend.

"While [Tillerson] won't specifically be discussing in the group session all of NATO's equities, obviously he will have the opportunity to do pull asides with many of these countries," Toner said.

Trump, himself, meanwhile, still intends to travel to Brussels, Belgium, in May for a meeting of NATO heads of state, the White House said Tuesday night. It confirmed May 25 as the date for the visit, which was first announced in February.

Tillerson's decision will likely raise eyebrows among some of the United States' European partners.

Close to the Russian border, some people fear that Trump's thawing relationship with President Vladimir Putin could leave them exposed. Like NATO, Moscow has been ramping its military exercises and also annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
"Donald Trump's administration is making a grave error that will shake the confidence of America's most important alliance and feed the concern that this administration simply too cozy with Vladimir Putin," said U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D- New York, who was one of the first to respond to Tillerson's decision.

He added: "I cannot fathom why the administration would pursue this course except to signal a change in American foreign policy that draws our country away from western democracy's most important institutions and aligns the United States more closely with the autocratic regime in the Kremlin."

He also labeled the move "an absolute disgrace."

Historically, NATO's promise to come to the defense of any partner under attack has reassured these countries, particularly those in the former Soviet Union, who believed they would be safe from Kremlin interference.

That's shifted under Trump, who has spoken warmly of Putin, called NATO "obsolete" and suggested he would not protect allies unless they upped their military spending. The FBI is also investigating links between his election campaign and Russian hacking. Tillerson has had dealings with Putin in his former role as ExxonMobil CEO.
Trump has recently spoken in more reassuring terms toward NATO, but many analysts say that even the suggestion that the U.S. might not respond to an aggression might leave allies vulnerable. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, at a brief photo spray Tuesday with his Finnish counterpart, expressed confidence that the U.S. will be represented at the upcoming NATO meeting.

"We'll take care of the representation," Mattis said. “This is something to be worked out, no problem.” 

It appeared that other U.S. officials were well aware of the negative signals likely generated by Tillerson's absence from the key meeting. Before the spokesman's official comment, one State Department told NBC News on condition of anonymity that there was a push within the agency to convince him to attend.
However, Tillerson is instead sending the State Department's second-most senior official, Tom Shannon, to the key NATO meeting on April 5-6.

A NATO official pointed out that "all allies are represented at NATO ministerial meetings ... it's up to allies to decide at what level they are represented," adding that such gatherings were "important regular events."

Reuters, the news agency that first reported Tillerson’s decision, quoted unidentified officials saying that the secretary of state would be staying in the U.S. to attending meetings between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

by and 

March 17, 2017

Croatia, Romania Closer to NATO Alliance Invite and the Nukes?


Croatia and Romania share a similar vision on most European issues, including enlargement and the eastern partnership, according to the countries’ foreign ministers, who met in Bucharest yesterday (14 March). EURACTIV Romania reports.

Croatian minister Davor Ivo Stier and his Romanian counterpart, Teodor Meleșcanu, spoke about further EU enlargement, the future of the bloc and the situation in Ukraine in a meeting in the Romanian capital on Tuesday.

The two foreign affairs chiefs also discussed bilateral cooperation within the framework of the European Union and NATO, as well as their forthcoming stints at the helm of the EU’s rotating presidency.

Romania and Croatia will both hold the presidency for the first time in 2019 and 2020, respectively, as part of the same “trio”, sandwiching Finland, which will hold the presidency for the first time since 2006.

Croatia inches closer to Schengen membership

The European Commission on Wednesday (18 January) proposed the gradual integration of Croatia into the Schengen Information System (SIS), bringing the newest EU member state slightly closer to full membership of the EU borderless area.

Meleșcanu said there is a common interest in “anchoring the region irrevocably and irreversibly on the European path”.

He added that “there is huge potential for further cooperation. Romania and Croatia have similar views on most European issues, especially under the current conditions, as well as the future of the European project itself”.

Moldova and the Ukraine crisis were also on the agenda and Romania’s foreign minister, in agreement with his Croatian colleague, insisted that “the importance and need is for the full implementation of the Minsk agreement”.

Both ministers said they share “views about the eastern partnership and how to bring these countries (closer) to” Europe.

Moldova balks at idea of closer NATO ties

Pro-Russian President of Moldova Igor Dodon yesterday (7 February) warned NATO that the closer ties it seeks with his strategically placed country could undermine its neutrality and threaten its security.

Stier revealed that his visit is the first of a number of trips that will seek to strengthen bilateral ties and he said that the country’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, “will visit”.

He added that the two countries’ period holding the rotating presidency will be “challenging” and that “we must support the EU’s enlargement policy”.

Stier also spoke about a number of bilateral agreements including a cooperation agreement and a memorandum of understanding on NATO defence. He also said that there are plans to work together in the Danube port of Constanta.

Nukes Out of Turkey to Romania (last summer of 2016)

 Two independent sources told that the US has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, against the background of worsening relations between Washington and Ankara.
According to one of the sources, the transfer has been very challenging in technical and political terms.
“It’s not easy to move 20+ nukes,” said the source, on conditions of anonymity.
According to a recent report by the Simson Center, since the Cold War, some 50 US tactical nuclear weapons have been stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, approximately 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.
Most Americans don’t know this fact but many will be surprised when and if they find out. Turkey has been a bad partner in both NATO with the US and EU with its European partners. This has been traditionally and historically been “Turkey”which has been in a backwards spiral on Human Rights particularly in the  LGBT community. EU rules stipulates not only a good human rights record but same sex unions or marriage. On the NATO front again Turkey has been an impediment to NATO needs dealing with the far east and Russia. Many times flights on US or NATO missions had to be rearranged to not enter their airspace because they would not clear them. Same has been on the ground on the fight against ISIS in Syria. On this front they have been Johnny come lately and only because they and no choice being inundated with Syrian refugees and attacks by ISIS on their Eastern front.

It was to be an expected change of NATO nuke policy for some time. Turkey was the partner no body wanted because it could not be counted on but at the time there was no body else that could take its place. Turkey has always acted for Turkey and that is great unless you enter into alliances in which an attack on one is an attack for all. They signed the document but it looked like they looked the other way on those tricky parts of helping each other out in times of difficulty.

The missiles have been there since the Kennedy administration and it always been a sour point with Russia. It was the break of the Soviet Union that has given the West choices though it has antagonized Moscow from one time having these countries serve as satellites of the Soviets to now being surrounded with nations that have missiles pointed at them to stop a Croatian-Georgia like invasion by the Russians with a promised of NATO to come to their help.

Now you can see why Turkey and Russia wanted to have eyes, ears and moving lips in no other place but the Oval office of the White House. What they misjudged  with Flynn who was getting money from both the Russians and the Turks,  its something the old Soviets were good at and that is secrecy. They went about in an open way for this stuff but Im sure there are other hungry palms that wont think twice to helping out someone who at the moment we are not at war with. Usually the oily field of candidates can be found in the Love America first fellows among others.

Adam Gonzalez
adamfoxie blog

March 10, 2017

Trumps Chooses Openly Gay Christian as NATO Ambassador

The BIG question is: Is this how Trump feels about Rick Grenell or about NATO?


President Trump has chosen open homosexual and “gay Christian” advocate Rick Grenell to be the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, according to several news reports.

The appointment, not yet confirmed by the White House, would make Grenell the highest-ranking open homosexual serving in the Trump administration.

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is the alliance of Western states formed in the Cold War to contain and defend against Soviet Communism. The U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO is commonly called the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Grenell would replace Douglas Lute, who held the position from 2013 until Trump's inauguration.

Grenell, 50, is a Republican foreign policy expert, former spokesman for three U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations from 2001 to 2008, and a FOX News contributor. In the last eight years, he could often be heard on the network strongly criticizing Obama’s foreign and defense policy as weak and incompetent.

But there is another side to Grenell: “gay” advocate. As LifeSiteNews reported after he was floated for Ambassador to the UN (a job that eventually went to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley), Grenell advocates for homosexual “marriage” as a “conservative” issue. He criticizes “loud religious right activists” who oppose homosexuality and touts Trump’s uniquely pro-LGBT credentials as a Republican. He was an early Trump supporter.

On LGBT issues, Trump has disappointed social conservatives by a series of actions that include reinstating an Obama executive order forcing federal contractors to have pro-LGBTQ policies; proclaiming that the homosexual “marriage” issue is “settled” in the courts; and appointing top advisers like Betsy DeVos and Anthony Scaramucci who are pro-homosexual.

But Trump’s recent reversal of Obama’s intrusive “transgender” school mandate thrilled conservatives of every stripe.

“Gay Christian”?

Grenell, who lives in Los Angeles, reportedly has a long-term homosexual partner, Matt Lashey. Grenell is pro-life and has worked over the years to help pro-life advocates at the UN, according to one veteran pro-life advocate involved in international issues.

But when it comes to homosexuality, Grenell calls for greater “tolerance” in the Republican Party despite the party’s clear and longstanding platform language opposing “rights” and “marriage” based on aberrant sex.

In a Feb. 3 podcast with FOX News reporter Shannon Bream, he said, “I am gay, I am a Christian and I am still a man of faith.”

In the interview, Grenell demonstrates precisely the sort of pro-homosexual advocacy that inspires opposition among Christians who accept the age-old biblical proscription against homosexual behavior.  

“I know I was born this way,” he emphatically told Bream. (Social conservatives have long dismissed the “born gay” claim, and in recent years socially liberal researchers and even homosexual activists have joined them in saying the theory is simplistic.)

Grenell told Bream that he grew up in a strongly Christian home and went to an Assemblies of God college. He cited his liberating experience attending Harvard graduate school and talking with the late homosexual pastor Peter Gomes. As the professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School, Gomes condemned alleged Christian “homophobia” used his prestigious perch to rebut the religious case against homosexuality.

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In the same vein, Grenell told Bream that biblical passages that historically have been interpreted as clearly proscribing homosexual practice actually do not mean that. The first chapter of the New Testament Book of Romans is one such passage.

“For so many Christians that I grew up with, they were focused on verses in the Bible that talked about homosexuality as a negative thing. And when you go back in and actually look at the original words for these verses, it wasn’t about being homosexual at all. It was about being deviant, or a prostitute,” he said. “And so there was no thought that you were going to be able to have a committed [homosexual] relationship.”

Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the world’s leading academic authority on the Bible and homosexuality from an orthodox (conservative) Christian perspective, specifically rejects Grenell’s thesis that the Bible does not condemn homosexual relationships.

Grenell said he respects Christians who disagree with him and his interpretation of Scripture.

He’s For Religious Liberty

Grenell said in the interview with Bream that he is strongly “for religious liberties.”

“I am somebody in the gay community who pushes and takes a lot of heat for trying to get the gay community to understand that we should not be trying to get people to jump up and down and be happy about the fact that we’re gay,” he said. “We should be demanding equal rights, equal protections, and that’s it.”

“I’m not looking for approval of my life from people,” he said. “I’m looking for equality and protections — just like you’re not looking for me to approve every area of your life.”

April 25, 2016

Russia’s Insecurities Have Chilled US Relations and Opened the Door for Worse


On Monday in the heart of Moscow, for a fleeting instant, the bleak stand-off between the US and Russia will be put aside. That day is the 71st anniversary of the meeting on the Elbe River, and to mark the occasion a sculpture will be unveiled in the Old Arbat district, barely a kilometre from the Kremlin, depicting the historic link-up between Soviet and American troops on the bombed out bridge at Torgau on April 25 1945.

At that point, Nazi Germany was cut in two. Inside a week Hitler was dead and a few days later World War II in Europe officially ended. More to the point, the Elbe signified a rare moment when the two countries were allies, united in a common cause. But for all the symbolic importance that attends Monday’s event, and whatever dignitaries are present, it will be low key – and small wonder. No ceremony can banish reality.

We may not be exactly reliving the Cold War. Unlike the immediate post-war decades, no ideological conflict exists to underpin it. Communism has virtually vanished from the face of the earth, and Russia practices its own bastardised version of capitalism. But today’s climate of tension, mutual suspicion and mutual incomprehension feels scarcely less chilly.

America doesn’t get why the Russians believe that Ukraine is part of, and must remain within, their sphere of influence, why they felt justified in seizing Crimea, and provoking a low-grade conflict in largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that holds the entire country in suspended animation. Ditto its behaviour a few years ago in Georgia, another former Soviet republic that sought to realign itself with the West.

Russia for its part remains perennially insecure, perennially unable to understand that what it sees as an entirely reasonable desire to protect its western borders is perceived by the West – and particularly by the countries, that share that border – as unprovoked and unnecessary aggression. It cannot quite grasp that the 28-nation Nato alliance of 2016 is not a re-incarnation of the Third Reich, secretly planning to use its forward positions in the old Soviet domains of eastern Europe as a springboard for overunning the motherland.

Other elements of the original Cold War are also resurfacing. Unwilling to take each other on directly, they do battle in proxy wars, most obviously in Syria. Russia is beefing up its armed forces, especially its attack submarines, where the US and Nato have long held an advantage. Ancient Cold War concerns are suddenly alive again, such as control of the maritime channels between Greenland, Iceland and Britain (GUIK in Nato terminology) through which Soviet submarines must pass to reach the open North Atlantic.

All the while, the “provocations” continue. For Russia, the very presence of Nato so close to its borders is a provocation, and not without reason. After all, during the Cold War proper the alliance was hundreds of miles away, with East Germany, Poland as well as the satellite Soviet Republics of Belarus and the Baltics states standing in-between. Today Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania belong to the alliance. Nato is on the very doorstep of Russia proper.

So Russia stages provocations of its own – most blatantly on April 13 when the US destroyer Donald Cook, while on a routine patrol in international waters in the Baltic, was buzzed by a Russian jet that flew within 30 feet of it. Washington’s response was to tut-tut about “gross unprofessionalism” on the part of the Russians, and how Moscow was “pushing the envelope.” But more concrete counter steps are on the way.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the incoming Supreme Commander of Nato and of US forces in Europe, declared that President Putin was seeking not just to push Nato back, but to destroy it. Currently, the US rotates a couple of combat brigades in and out of Eastern Europe. Washington has already boosted its European military budget by $4bn. Now Scaparrotti wants a brigade, equivalent to 5,000 men, permanently stationed there, a tripwire to re-assure nervous allies and guarantee a US response to any direct Russian aggression.

As for incidents like the Donald Cook, Scaparrotti advocated giving the Russians a taste of their own medicine. In the meantime, Nato will show it means business when it holds military exercises in Poland this summer, involving 25,000 men, which will of course only fuel Russian paranoia. Anyone remember Nato’s Able Archer exercise of November 1983, a particularly fraught moment in the Cold War, when the Kremlin put its forces on maximum alert, fearing the exercise was camouflage for a full-scale attack on the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons and all?

Nuclear weapons of course remain the bottom line in any confrontation between Russia and the US, and the greatest reason to hope this Cold War 2.0 will not turn hot. More likely, say the wargamers, Moscow will continue the strategy it honed in Ukraine, needling and seeking to destabilise weak neighbours like the Baltics with “asymmetric warfare,” but stopping short of frontal attack. One mistake however – a provocation, a retaliation, a sailor killed or an aircraft shot down – and the brinkmanship could have incalculable consequences.

All of which is a very long way from the Elbe. That moment on April 25 1945 in reality is far less golden than it seemed then. Europe was about to be split into two ideological, economic and military blocs, and Washington and Moscow already realised that each would be the other’s main post-war enemy. The Soviet spies in the West were long since at work.

But somehow the candle of collaboration past still flickers. Every so often a so-called  ‘Elbe Group,’ made up of retired senior US and Russian generals, convenes in a third country to discuss problems in the relationship. The group has no official standing, but is a precious backchannel that allows participants to understand each other’s point of view.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, and probably won’t change the world any more than the unveiling of a commemorative sculpture in central Moscow. But right now, it’s the best we can hope for.

February 12, 2016

[Not Since WWII] NATO Orders Warships to Aegen to Ease Deadly Smuggling of Refugees

BRUSSELS — In a dramatic response to Europe's gravest refugee crisis since World War II, NATO ordered three warships to sail immediately Thursday to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of asylum-seekers across the waters from Turkey to Greece.

"This is about helping Greece, Turkey and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation ... a human tragedy," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Yet even after the ships were told to get underway, NATO officials acknowledged uncertainties about the precise actions they would be performing — including whether they would take part in operations to rescue drowning migrants.

The arrival of more than a million people in Europe in 2015 — mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — has plunged the 28-nation European Union into what some see as the most serious crisis in its history.
Despite winter weather, the onslaught of refugees crossing the Aegean has not let up. The International Organization for Migration said this week that 76,000 people — nearly 2,000 per day — have reached Europe by sea this year and 409 of them have died trying, most drowning in the cold, rough waters.

The number of arrivals in the first six weeks of 2016 is nearly 10 times as many as the same period last year. Most come from Turkey to Greece and then try to head north through the Balkans to the EU's more prosperous countries such as Germany and Sweden.

The decision Thursday by NATO defense ministers in Brussels came in response to a joint request by three members — Turkey, Germany and Greece — for alliance participation in an international effort targeting the smugglers.

"This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats," Stoltenberg stressed at a news conference. "NATO will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks."

In a related effort, the military alliance will also step up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities on the Turkish-Syrian border, Stoltenberg said.

The vessels of NATO Standing Maritime Group 2 "will start to move now" on orders from U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's top commander in Europe, Stoltenberg said.

Breedlove said the ships should be at their Aegean destinations by Friday. NATO's website says the flotilla is composed of a German navy flagship, the Bonn, and two other ships, the Barbaros from Turkey and the Fredericton from Canada.

"(Until now) NATO has been mainly focused on how we can address the root causes, to try to stabilize the countries where many of the refugees are coming from," Stoltenberg said, mentioning Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Jordan. "The new thing now is ... providing different kinds of military capabilities ... to provide direct help, direct support, to Turkish authorities, to Greek authorities, and to the European Union."

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in Brussels for two days of discussions with his Canadian and European colleagues, said NATO military authorities will draw up plans for how the alliance might further throttle human smuggling operations across the Aegean.
"There is now a criminal syndicate, which is exploiting these poor people," Carter told a news conference. "Targeting that is the greatest way an effect could be had."

Stoltenberg said once the NATO brass makes its recommendations, the alliance will talk to the EU and decide how to proceed.

Breedlove said the mission specifics were still being written.

"This mission has literally come together in about the last 20 hours," Breedlove told journalists. "I have been tasked now to go back and define the mission, define the rules of engagement, define all of what we call special operation instructions — all of the things that will lay out what we are going to do."

He said it was too early to say whether the NATO crews will be rescuing migrants in sinking or non-seaworthy boats — something the Greek and Turkish coast guards have been doing nightly for months.

"I really can't talk to you about what is a core task and what is not ... we had some really rapid decision-making and now we've got to go out and do some military work," Breedlove said.

The NATO commander hailed the fast reaction to the joint request as an example of the streamlined decision-making the alliance has put into place since 2014.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose country has a fraught relationship with neighbor and NATO ally Turkey, said the agreement "will finally solve the issue of migration."

"Greece, until now, has paid too high a price — during a financial crisis — on migration, a price that is disproportionate relative to the other countries of Europe and NATO," Kammenos said. "It is perfectly clear from the joint declaration that the purpose of this force is to stop the criminal activities of those who traffic in human beings."

Kammenos said the presence of NATO forces along the Turkish coastline will "ensure that any migrants who are arrested will be sent straight back to Turkey." In a later stage, the Greek minister said, the EU's border agency, Frontex, could broaden its operations from Greek islands of the Aegean to the Turkish coast.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials.

An official with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders, however, said the NATO and EU actions "miss the point."

"More than 300 men, women and children have drowned in the Aegean in their desperate attempts to reach Europe this year alone," said Aurelie Ponthieu, the group's humanitarian adviser. "In this context, NATO's involvement in the "surveillance of illegal crossings" is dangerously shortsighted. People will continue to risk their lives in search of safety and protection, no matter the obstacles that the EU - and now the leaders of the NATO alliance - put in their way."

"How many deaths will it take before Europe, Turkey and others focus their energy on providing humanitarian solutions rather than deterrence measures that clearly miss the point?" she asked.

A former British Navy officer gave a measured assessment of the NATO flotilla's impact.

Peter Roberts, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said "the ships will show where the people are moving to and from, but will provide no information about the criminal networks."

"That type of information requires presence on shore and investigative powers of police forces, not military ones," Roberts said.

___New York Times
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

July 22, 2015

Europe with the Finger on the Trigger Ready to Stop Another Ukraine

Hedgehog. Seemingly innocent, this word takes on extraordinary significance in a tiny Northern European country, reminding their population of barely 1 million of the constant threat of invasion by their former conquerers. You see, Hedgehog is the code name of Estonia’s largest-ever military exercise, which took place in early May, where tanks and aircraft from around the world joined with some 13,000 Estonians to practice avoiding the same fate that has befallen Ukraine. Government video shows everyday volunteers, who make up about half of the Estonian Defense Forces, firing automatic weapons from wooded hideouts and tossing smoke grenades before calling out, “The battle is over, all are friends!” But the message to Russia is clear and backed by unprecedented force: We are not friends.
But it’s not just Estonia that’s hiding behind an armor of troops and tanks. At the same time, Operation Lightning Strike brought out 3,000 troops in Lithuania, while Operation Dynamic Mongoose included another 5,000 in the North Sea off Norway. It’s Europe’s latest show-and-tell of military capability, which, in a reversal of a trend that has lasted many years, is increasing dramatically. From Germany to Scandinavia to the Balkans, there arguably hasn’t been this much activity in European barracks since the end of the Cold War, some experts say. Military budget spending from European nations with the biggest increases will total some $51 billion over the next seven years, according to a report by the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank. That’s almost a 50 percent increase from their total defense spending in 2013, according to European Defense Agency data. 
With social services being slashed, some are far from thrilled that their governments are beefing up infantry units and spy networks. 
While most think that Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t be bold enough to invade a NATO nation like Estonia, most were also surprised at his adventure in Ukraine. So you can take the increases in spending as simultaneously symbolic — i.e., “Don’t mess with us, Russia” — and prep for a worst-case scenario, says Henrik Heidenkamp, senior research fellow of defense, industries and society at the Royal United Services Institute. 
While Putin’s brazen land grab in Ukraine, perceived threats from the Islamic State group to the south and an influx of immigration understandably put European nations on high alert, it’s surprising that all of this is happening on the coattails of a crippling economic crisis that has made millions cringe at the mention of “debt” and “austerity.” With social services being slashed while unemployment skyrockets, some are far from thrilled that their governments are beefing up infantry units and spy networks. 
Naturally, it’s in the countries nestled snug against Mother Russia’s borders, mostly the Baltic and Scandinavian states, where the biggest increases in defense are happening. In Lithuania, the government overwhelmingly voted to reinstate conscription in March, which will see some 3,500 citizens recruited to serve in the military each year. It also just approved a 30 percent increase in military spending and has plans for further increases in coming years. And just in case citizens weren’t convinced of the code-red threat, the national defense minister released a booklet titled “Things to know about readiness for emergency situations and warfare.”
Then there’s Poland, which is quickly becoming one of the continent’s most prominent military and economic powers. Its approximately $37 billion budget increase from 2012 to 2022 will include 70 drones, 70 helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery in a bid to become one of the region’s military powerhouses — meaning it wants a greater say on NATO policy and to build a homegrown industry that can export goods to other countries.
What is a bit more surprising than countries at Russia’s doorstep arming themselves is the fact that Western Europeans, like the war-averse Germans and economically strapped French, are doing the same. In March, Germany passed an $8.5 billion increase through 2019 on military spending. Over the same period, France will up its budget by about $3.5 billion. It could be seen as sending a message to the Kremlin that the NATO agreement holds weight, but remember: If Russia invades a NATO-member nation, other members must go to war.
In March, both European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen threw their weight behind a proposal for a European Union army, which would be in addition to existing NATO forces. The EU army would be a direct counter to the threat of Russia. But the proposal was called “fantasy” by a number of critics, particularly in the U.K. 
So tanks and missiles on the border regions are sure to make Putin think twice about marching soldiers into European countries. But the big, bad shirtless horseman to the east isn’t the only thing making Europeans get defensive. From the south, the rise of the Islamic State group has sparked fears of extremism breeding on European soil, particularly from fighters who have traveled to Syria and Iraq, only to return radicalized, says Anthony Glees, director of the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham.
Some of this funding is much more under the radar. Then there’s France, which has just passed an ambitious surveillance bill — the “French Patriot Act” — that allows for sweeping intelligence gathering in the wake of extremist attacks in Paris in January, much like the Patriot Act did after the U.S. passed it following 9/11. In many ways, countries see intelligence as a cheaper and more effective way to safeguard from threats than conventional tanks and missiles, says Glees. But it does come at the cost of skeptical and often outraged members of civil society who doesn’t see the security benefits as outweighing their privacy rights.

Nathan Siegel

 Nathan Siegel

Nathan covers global business, sports and culture for OZY, where he landed after putting his dreams of basketball stardom on hold ... for now. After a childhood of jumping from country to country, Nathan is used to feeling like a tourist everywhere he goes. 

October 12, 2014

“Suddenly we noticed that Russia has an ugly face” NATO German General


{adamfoxie} Poland, which neighbors the Ukraine and remembering the lessons of WWll whereas the invasion of Poland by the Germans ( 1939 ) was the match which ignited the fuse of the war and after the war was over Poland was handed over to the then Soviet Union as a prize for fighting the war where it remained as a satellite and bumper zone for the soviets (until 1991) with the excuse that the Soviets were there to defend Poland from another invasion from Germany when West Germany had been transformed into a partner of NATO (the only fear in the region came from the soviets which already kept the eastern half of Germany as a war price for help in defeating Hitler) and western security fear from an ever menacing bear which had no second thoughts in sending in troops and tanks like it did in Chekoslovakia when the Cheks decided they had enough of the Soviets. That insurrection to liberate the Cheks was over before it started.

Now with Putin saying Russia is a free country  and wants to be in harmony with its partners and neighboring nations with one side of his face, while with the other he drives his troops further into the Ukraine. He has given no excuse now why he persists when all his other imaginary reason have been put out on the open and have evaporated.

Exercises in the area NaTO’s Poland have now includes other nations, including the US, Canada and Britain on the invitation of Poland.
Military exercises over the last month are meant to prove NATO’s resolve. But Putin’s “little green men” and his “ambiguous assault” strategy still have it in a quandary.
 {Leo Cendrowicz of the Daily Beast} Poland—The serenity of this town in Poland’s gorgeous Masurian lake district was about to be shattered. As F-16s roared from one end of the horizon to the other, they dipped to bomb a grassland strip. The blast was a stupefying white flash followed by a body-shaking howl, and it was the cue for a maelstrom of metallic shrieks. Rockets zipped out from behind the trees; tanks from Poland’s 12th Mechanized Division rumbled into view; and helicopters hovered over the melee. 
Surveying the drama from a podium a quarter mile away was Polish President Bronisław Komorowski and a phalanx of army chiefs from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This was the climax to Anakonda-14, a military exercise involving some 12,500 troops from Poland and eight other NATO countries, and everyone there looked on attentively. But the big question, of course, was how closely Russia watched from afar.
The war game that ended earlier this month was staged at a crucial time: Russia’s infiltration of Ukraine—annexing Crimea and supporting rebels in the east—has alarmed central and eastern Europe. And it gave this Anakonda a sharper bite than those that have gone before. 
“We all see what has happened in Ukraine,” said Lukas Wasko, a lieutenant from Poland’s 5th Artillery Regiment. “It makes our exercise today feel more real.” 
Indeed. Exercises like Anakonda are just one obvious example of the way the Ukraine conflict has jolted NATO into action. Originally a solely Polish exercise, the rest of NATO was invited to take part after the Ukraine crisis erupted: 750 soldiers eventually joined Anakonda from the United States, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as Lithuania and Estonia. Anakonda takes place over ten days in four main sites across Poland, and Orzysz, in the northeast, is just 35 miles from Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in the Baltic region. 
Regional fears over Russia’s threat have not been diminished by the uneasy and often breached September 5 ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels: with shelling continuing around Donetsk, in the east, it is clear that the conflict is far from settled. “Russia’s actions affect everyone taking part in the exercise,” says NATO’s Danish Brigadier General Torben Dixen Møller, serving as the Deputy Commander for Anakonda. “The lesson we learned is to increase our readiness and responsiveness.”
Poland, right on Ukraine’s border, has been particularly bullish, demanding a tough NATO response to Russia. In her inauguration speech as Poland’s new Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz said on October 1 she would request a U.S. military presence in the country. She also announced that her new government would raise defense spending from 1.6 to 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product from 2016. 
“The events in Ukraine have significantly changed our approach to security,” Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told the Daily Beast. “We have a military conflict raging next to the Polish borders. The history of Poland teaches us that peace in the world is not a given. And Poland’s citizens expect us to do everything to ensure Poland’s security.” 
The broader NATO response has been to bolster its presence among its eastern members, including Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In June, U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans for a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative to increase U.S. military deployments to Europe. At last month’s NATO summit in Newport, Wales, the alliance’s 28 leaders agreed to upgrade the NATO Response Force (NRF), a 25,000-strong multinational rapid reaction section to adapt to the new model of hybrid warfare seen in Ukraine. And within the NRF, a 4,000-strong high-readiness spearhead force is being designed to move within 48 hours to, say, Poland or the Baltic states.
 The message from top NATO officials has been stern. When former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg took office as NATO Secretary General on October 1, he made it clear that Russia's intervention in Ukraine challenged Euro-Atlantic security. “NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. But we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which our alliance, and the security in Europe and North America rest,” he said. 
It was no accident that Stoltenberg’s first overseas trip since assuming his duties, on October 6, was to Poland. “We need to keep NATO strong, we need to help keep our neighborhood stable,” he said after visiting Poland’s Lask Air Force Base.
Military exercises are an important part of the response. In September, some 2,000 NATO troops from nations including the U.S., Canada, Britain and Italy took part in several exercises in eastern Europe, including one in Ukraine itself, as part of a beefed-up military presence.  
This is partly about reassurance and deterrence. But there is a practical aspect too. As combat operations in Afghanistan wind down, so too does the main driver of NATO defense cooperation. American, British, French, German, Italian, Polish, Turkish and other troops showed how well they could work together in Afghanistan, and officials say military exercises are needed to continue these valuable interactions and exchanges. Philip Breedlove, NATO commander-in-chief, says this represents a shift, "from engagement to preparedness."
Then there is the challenge of “ambiguous assault,” the undeclared guerilla activities that Russia appears to have pioneered in Ukraine. For many, this is a new kind of warfare, applying subversion, agitation, political demonstrations and cyber-attacks—all lashed together with a virulent propaganda campaign. The “little green men,” the soldiers with Russian equipment and evident Russian training but no Russian insignia who have lead the agitation in Ukraine epitomize this approach to warfare. 
Much of the talk in Anakonda was about how to deal with such a challenge. Major Eric Taylor from the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, part of the U.S. contribution to the exercise, described it as one of the most frightening aspects of military service. “We faced these issues of combatants without insignia in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “When you see that, the hairs go up on the back of your neck because you know something is not right. You need eyes at the back of your head.”
  NATO has yet to make clear how it would respond to such tactics. Would Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty be invoked, whereby an attack on one is taken as an attack on all? Pauline Massart, Director of Security & Defence Agenda, a Brussels-based think tank, says NATO is still struggling to adapt to Russian tactics. “The new methods are evolving at warp speed and I don’t think NATO is ready,” she says. “However, there is at least a sense that security is back on the agenda with a vengeance.”
There are other questions about whether all NATO members are committed to the mission. Washington regularly complains that Europeans fail to pay their fair share of the collective defense bill: 24 out of 28 NATO members spend less than the alliance’s defense guideline of 2% of GDP. Many members also have aging equipment, including Poland. Indeed, one of the loudest, if not the most effective, weapons showcased by the Polish in Orzysz is the Neva W-125, a surface-to-air anti-missile system originally developed by the Soviets in the 1960s. 
One of the biggest worries within NATO concerns Germany, where contract mishaps have delayed prestige projects like the Eurofighter jet, the Puma tank and A400 Airbus transporter planes. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has pledged that Germany will play a much greater military role on the international stage, but on October 6 she admitted the country was, "going to have some work to do," to rectify equipment problems.
Still, Ukraine has given NATO a new sense of purpose, according to Erik Brattberg, Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “That said, underneath the surface differences in threat perception and how to deal with Russia persist,” he says. “Going forward, NATO must invest more in building local capacity in the Baltic states and other vulnerable allies in areas such as intelligence and information sharing, cyber security and energy security.”
In Orzysz, visiting German General Hans-Lothar Domröse admitted that Ukraine is testing NATO. “The invasion of Crimea was a wake-up call,” he said. “We had been too optimistic, convinced that such violations could no longer happen. Suddenly we noticed that Russia has an ugly face.” But Domröse, who is also the Commander of NATO’s Joint Force Command in Brunssum, Netherlands, insists that the alliance has always risen to its challenges. “It has been a reminder of our core defense role at NATO. We have to adapt and we will adapt.” 

October 7, 2014

Fears of War with Russia Convinces Germany to Send Combat Troops Again in 60 Yrs

 Russia plants their flag at center of Berlin

Germany is set to deploy troops to the Ukraine for the first time since the Nazi invasion of the then-Soviet territory more than 60 years ago.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and high-level officials were considering the historic move to send 200 peacekeepers–including 50 paratroopers–recently.
Sources in Germany told the Daily Mail that the country is in “exploratory discussions” about taking part in an international force on the ground in Ukraine.
A ceasefire between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government is holding back much of the fighting for now but there is widespread concern that the rampant violence and incursions will start again soon. Despite the ceasefire, Russia is building up troop numbers on its borders, according to Ukraine. 
“The West fears Vladimir Putin is determined to build an unofficial buffer state called Novorossiya – or New Russia – in eastern Ukraine,” the Mail revealed.
Meanwhile, the new chief of an alliance in charge of boosting NATO’s military presence in Eastern Europe said that the plan doesn’t violate the post-Cold War deal struck with Russia. 
Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to an air force base in Poland that he’s committed to the plan for a “spearhead” rapid reaction force, created by NATO member states in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, right, prior talks in Moscow on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Monday for abiding to the truce in Ukraine and warned against blaming all violations on rebels. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, right, prior talks in Moscow on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Monday for abiding to the truce in Ukraine and warned against blaming all violations on rebels. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Russia claims that the increased military presence could violate the 1997 agreement on troop levels that NATO can station in former Soviet states, but Stoltenberg told Reuters that it falls in line with the agreement.
“There is no contradiction between more military presence in this area and also respecting the rule-based international order,” said Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister.
He added that NATO needs to remain a strong military alliance that has “a rock-solid bond” with the United States, but that also approaches Russia with plans to solve problems without fighting. 
NATO won’t interfere directly in Ukraine, since it isn’t an alliance member as of yet, but is aiming to reassure member states bordering Ukraine which fear Russia will target them next.
Still, Stoltenberg said that Russia needs to step back.
“Russia has violated international law and has violated its international commitment and violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he said.
“We call on Russia to respect international law and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and to use their influence on separatists to make them respect the ceasefire. Russia has to change their actions, their behavior.”

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