Slowly But Surely, Europe Gets Serious About Its Own Defense

The Dutch Royal Navy replenishment and support ship HNLMS Karel Doorman is seen in the port of Rotterdam, September 3, 2014
The Dutch Royal Navy replenishment and support ship HNLMS Karel Doorman is seen in the port of Rotterdam, September 3, 2014 (Kees Torn)

The European Commission proposed a huge increase in defense research spending on Wednesday, the same day Belgium and the Netherlands agreed to jointly replace their aging frigates and minesweepers.

Both moves underscore that Europe is getting more serious about its own defense and come only weeks after the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, reiterated his support for an EU army. Read more

Spanish City in North Africa at the Heart of Diplomatic Row

The Spanish city of Ceuta, seen across the Mediterranean Sea from Gibraltar, January 30, 2011
The Spanish city of Ceuta, seen across the Mediterranean Sea from Gibraltar, January 30, 2011 (José Rambaud)

Russia withdrew a request for a flotilla of warships to refuel at Spain’s North African city of Ceuta on Wednesday, sparing the NATO country the embarrassment of having to either turn the Russians down or accept the outrage of its allies.

Madrid had come under criticism from politicians in continental Europe and the United Kingdom for possibly allowing the Russian ships to dock at Ceuta.

A group of warships led by Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was expected to stop for supplies in the port after passing through the Strait of Gibraltar on Wednesday morning.

The vessels are sailing for Syria, where they would join Russian military efforts in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Read more

First French Jets Launch from Aircraft Carrier Near Syria

A French Rafale fighter jet takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Eastern Mediterranean, November 23
A French Rafale fighter jet takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Eastern Mediterranean, November 23 (Marine nationale)

French Rafale fighter jets carried out their first strikes against the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle on Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The airstrikes come a little more than a week after the group claimed responsibility for a series of bombings and shootings in the French capital that left more than 130 people dead.

The carrier, the only one in France’s navy, was deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean before the attacks in Paris.

It carries 26 fighters, tripling France’s capacity in the fight against the fanatical Islamist group. Read more

France Deploys Carrier to Support War on Islamic State

The American aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the French Charles de Gaulle transit the Arabian Gulf, March 8
The American aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the French Charles de Gaulle transit the Arabian Gulf, March 8 (USN/Scott Fenaroli)

French president François Hollande said on Thursday he would deploy his nation’s only aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean to support the war against the self-declared Islamic State in the Levant.

“The aircraft carrier will enable us to be more efficient in coordination with our allies,” the French president said at the inauguration of a new Defense Ministry headquarters in Paris. Read more

France to Sell Helicopter Carriers to Egypt

The French helicopter carrier Mistral is seen in Toulon, May 5, 2009
The French helicopter carrier Mistral is seen in Toulon, May 5, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons/Rama)

France announced on Wednesday it would sell Egypt the two helicopter carriers it refused to deliver to Russia earlier this year.

The deal cements France’s growing role as the arms supplier of Western-allied Arab states.

In the last year, the European country has sold fighter jets, helicopters, satellites and warships to Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates worth $15 billion.

In February, Egypt became the first country in three decades to order Rafale fighter aircraft from Dassault — with the help of French financing.

The two Mistral helicopter carriers were originally slated to be sold to Russia for €1.2 billion. France suspended their delivery after Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last year, triggering the worst crisis in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War.

In May, Russia said it was no longer interested in acquiring the ships. A Defense Ministry official also said it could not accept the vessels being sold to a third nation, though. “This is a matter of state security,” he said.

The ships can carry up to sixteen helicopters and sixty armored vehicles each. France operates three of its own.

Since the military retook power in Egypt under Abdul Fatah Sisi in 2014, the country has played a more active role across the Arab world. Egyptian jets struck Islamists in neighboring Libya in February, a country that has been at civil war since Arab and NATO powers dethroned its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

Egyptian forces have also joined a Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and Sisi has spoken of plans to form a joint Arab military force. Those ambitions appear to have gone nowhere yet.

In Alaska, Obama Calls for New Arctic Icebreakers

The American icebreaker Healy operates in the Chukchi Sea, July 10, 2011
The American icebreaker Healy operates in the Chukchi Sea, July 10, 2011 (NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

President Barack Obama was expected to call on Tuesday for new Coast Guard icebreakers in the Arctic, an area where the United States have fallen behind rival Russia.

While Russia operates some forty icebreakers, several of them nuclear-powered, and has six more under construction, the United States only have two. On a visit to Alaska, Obama was due to urge Congress to approve funding for new ships by 2020.

Politico reports that new ships could cost at least $1 billion each and that it would take the American shipbuilding industry — which has long ceased to build icebreakers — ten years to deliver a brand new one.

It might seem that a warming Arctic would require less icebreaking, not more. But as northern waters become more accessible, far more ship traffic will be at risk and their shifting climate conditions make it more likely seas will freeze unpredictably.

As polar caps melt, new shipping routes could significantly shorten the distance between Asia and Europe and reveal previously untapped oil and gas resources. Nearly a quarter of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons are believed to lie under the Arctic seabed.

Russia has the largest Arctic territory by far, second to Canada. With an economy heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, it considers the Arctic a national security priority. Russia has stepped up military deployment in the region and invested more than $1 billion in the expansion of Murmansk, its northernmost port.

The United States, by contrast, have largely neglected the region.

Obama’s Alaska trip, the first presidential visit there, underlines that America is finally waking up the Arctic’s growing geopolitical significance.

Russia No Longer Interested in Buying French Warships

The Mistral class helicopter carrier Vladivostok in the port of Saint Nazaire, France, May 9, 2014
The Mistral class helicopter carrier Vladivostok in the port of Saint Nazaire, France, May 9, 2014 (Bernard Grua)

Russia said on Tuesday it was no longer interested in buying two helicopter carriers from France which had suspended the delivery of the vessels over the crisis in Ukraine.

“Russia won’t take them,” said Oleg Bochkaryov, deputy chief of the government body that oversees the defense industry, according to Russian media.

Now there’s only one discussion, concerning the money sum that should be returned to Russia.

Vladimir Gutenev, first deputy member of the Duma‘s Committee for Industry, told the TASS news agency he was sure Russia could build a more powerful version of the French carrier itself.

But Russian officials have also said they don’t want France to sell the two ships to another country.

“Both Mistral helicopter carriers were built for the Russian navy, for our helicopters, our control systems, our infrastructure,” said Yury Yakubov, a senior Defense Ministry official, earlier this month.

These vessels cannot be given away to some third country now under any circumstances. This is a matter of state security.

Each of the two ships can carry up to sixteen helicopters and sixty armored vehicles. France operates three of its own.

The €1.2 billion euro contract for the sale was signed in 2011 by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Russia names the warships Vladivostok and Sevastopol, the second after the capital of the Crimea, the seizure of which by Russia last year compelled France to suspend the deal.

It would have been the first sale of military hardware by a NATO ally to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Unlike the United Kingdom, the United States and former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, France has not taken a hard line with Russia over its aggression in Ukraine. Incumbent president François Hollande invited his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to attend the anniversary celebrations of the D-Day landing in Normandy last year despite the protests of NATO allies and later helped negotiate a ceasefire for the violence in southeastern Ukraine.

Russia still denies it supports the uprising in Ukraine’s Donbas region where fighting continues despite the truce.