British European Union Membership at Crossroad

View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011
View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

Euroskeptic currents have been strong of late in the Her Majesty’s kingdom, but also the Anglophobe ones in continental Europe. Westminster finds itself divided over the level of European integration best to pursue.

Having opted out from many “European” projects deepening integration, many Tory backbenchers claim that Europe’s woes justify further distance, especially if the European Union’s answer to the crisis is financial centralization.

While English skepticism toward European Union isn’t new, the sniping occurs at a time when the body itself is undergoing the greatest stress it has experienced since its inception. With potential breakaway regions like Catalonia in Spain, not to mention Scotland for the United Kingdom, raising questions of sovereignty even within member states as opposed to among them, the long-term future of European integration is in serious doubt. These debates are no longer merely exercises in rhetorical throat clearing but legitimate challenges to the status quo.

Depending on the future of British membership and the extent to which other states wish to centralize fiscal control, analysts in Wikistrat’s Europe Desk see four scenarios for British engagement with Europe. Read more “British European Union Membership at Crossroad”

Navy to Invite China to Pacific Rim Exercise

Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta announced on Thursday that the United States Navy will be inviting China to a series of Pacific naval exercises in 2014.

These exercises, which take place biannually, involve up to 22 nations. The announcement comes in the wake of joint counterpiracy operations conducted by the two nations last week in the Gulf of Aden. Proposals for joint peacekeeping operations were discussed as well.

Referring to the ongoing conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu Islands in China, Panetta pleaded for international cooperation, specifically in areas of maritime disputes. Read more “Navy to Invite China to Pacific Rim Exercise”

Iranian Navy Aims to Sail Off United States Shores

The head of the Iranian navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, has stated that Iran aims to put warships in international waters off the United States coast “in the next few years.”

The comments were part of a response to Washington’s pronounced naval presence in the Persian Gulf and American plans for maritime war games later this month. Though Iran has made similar claims in the past, current tension over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions gives the proposed move a newfound credibility. At present, the United States naval presence in the region falls under the jurisdiction of the Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. Read more “Iranian Navy Aims to Sail Off United States Shores”

Saudis Arrest Al Qaeda Cells with Links to Gaza, Sinai

Counterterrorism sources report a connection between the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cell captured in Saudi Arabia and Sunday’s rocket attacks on Sderot, Israel.

AQAP commands a cell dubbed “the Shura Council in the Jerusalem Area” which operates in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

According to Debka, an Israeli security news website, the leadership in Arabia has commanded the cell to step up attacks in the region. The commander of the Shura Council, Hisham Saydani alias Abu al-Walid al-Maqdis, was imprisoned by the Palestinian militant group Hamas until recently, when, for an as of yet undisclosed reason, he was released.

Apparently, Saydani was one of the terrorists centrally responsible for this month’s attack at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Israel that killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers. Egypt demanded that Hamas find Saydani. The rocket attack on Sderot on Sunday was a warning from Al Qaeda that Hamas should not comply.

The same day, Saudi security forces busted two AQAP cells in the kingdom that were planning attacks. The cells were in possession of chemical materials for loading into explosive charges. Debka asserts that it has sources that connect the Sderot attacks to the cells that were arrested. Read more “Saudis Arrest Al Qaeda Cells with Links to Gaza, Sinai”

Uzbekistan Key to the Future Stability of Afghanistan

Despite the two state construct of Afghanistan and Pakistan within which American policymakers usually consider the former in the region, the role of Uzbekistan, with has deep relationships with and leverage over key Afghan assets, will grow in importance, especially if post 2014, conditions devolve into civil war.

By focusing squarely on the future influence of China, India and Iran in a post-2014 Afghanistan, American officials face the threat of being caught off guard by the ongoing contingency plans of Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Believed to have little faith in the Karzai government and its ability to function after the withdrawal of NATO forces by December 2014, Karimov’s administration, through its longstanding ties with northern, anti-Taliban forces, may exacerbate a potential conflict with military and financial support of anti-Islamist forces.

Karimov’s belief that post 2014, Afghanistan will descend into chaos is supported by the recent assassination of an ethnic Uzbek former mujahideen commander and key opposition figure, Ahmad Khan Samangani.

More worrying, Uzbekistan’s support of traditional anti-Taliban forces puts it indirectly in conflict with the main supporter of Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan. Read more “Uzbekistan Key to the Future Stability of Afghanistan”

Air Sea Battle War Plans Spark Tensions with China

A small but influential office inside the Pentagon is funding war game studies that are designed to prepare the United States for a war against an aggressive and heavily armed China.

The concept, dubbed “Air Sea Battle,” does not give context or provide a scenario for why or how a potential war with China might come about. Instead, it focuses on detailing an American response to an initial Chinese strike.

A concept study by the Pentagon funded Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment starts with the increased look and shoot capabilities that modern technology affords to the Chinese military and which might enable it to strike American military assets in the Pacific region. The concept’s starting point, set twenty years in the future, is a Chinese military strike that sinks major US surface ships and simultaneously disables American air bases in the region.

The plan envisages the American response to consist of a conventional counterattack against mainland China. The United States would use stealth aircraft and submarine launched attacks to destroy Chinese long range precision missiles and radar. The initial “blinding campaign” would then be followed by a larger air and naval assault.

Critics, including Chinese officials, decry the depiction of China as a hegemonic aggressor. Even within the United States itself, skeptics point out that it is hard to imagine a realistic scenario that might trigger such a drastic Chinese move given the high level of interdependence of the two countries.

Within the Pentagon, the Army and Marine Corps are positioning themselves to oppose the plan as it would almost certainly shift scarce resources to the Air Force and Navy. The concept, however, does align with the administration’s broader effort to shift the American military’s focus toward Asia and language has already been added to the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill that asks the Pentagon to outline first steps toward its implementation. Read more “Air Sea Battle War Plans Spark Tensions with China”

Afghan Bamiyan Province at Risk from Insurgents

Afghanistan’s central province of Bamiyan has long been a safe haven from the violence that plagues the eastern and southern provinces but insurgent violence has picked up in recent months, starting a dangerous and troubling trend.

The Bamiyan Province has been shielded from the majority of past insurgent violence both because of its central geographical location and its population’s strong anti-Taliban mentality.

Insurgent violence has been building these past months. Recently, two roadside bombs in the province, only five days apart, took the lives of dozens of Afghan civilians and police officers. Those who reside in the wartorn state share concerns that insurgents will capitalize on the power void left behind after the withdrawal of foreign military troops.

July’s bombings in Bamiyan are particularly disconcerting because the province has long been considered a very secure location and was the first point of power transition from NATO to Afghan troops. Mounting insurgency violence in what was once deemed an “island of security” paints a less than desirable picture in the context of the NATO withdrawal from the region.

The attacks against Afghan police officers were unprecedented in terms of their boldness and lethality. The provincial governor says its police forces are not prepared to fight insurgents and need more weapons and training. More cooperation between leaders and assistance from the Afghan army have been suggested as ways to counter this problem. Read more “Afghan Bamiyan Province at Risk from Insurgents”

Israel Plans Naval Buildup in Mediterranean

Israel is planning to boost its naval presence in the Mediterranean to protect its offshore natural gas industry as new fields are slated to come online.

With the Tamar natural gasfield expected to come online in 2013, the Israeli Defense Ministry is requesting a “one-time budget increase” of $760 million to boost its presence and capacity in the Mediterranean to better protect Israeli natural gas platforms.

The ministry’s request also calls for the addition of four new warships and a significant increase in the number of soldiers deployed to the area. The request also calls for Israeli Air Force Shoval drones to patrol the area as well as the installation of new radar equipment on the gas platforms which are located twelve nautical miles from the Israeli coast — beyond Israel’s territorial waters but within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

This latest request to boost naval capabilities in the Mediterranean is significant, in that the navy is not typically a priority when it comes to the allocation of Israel’s military budget. The request reflects the growing concerns among Israel’s military leaders of the need to protect its goals of energy independence and new economic opportunities in the form of natural gas export deals, in light of the proliferation of illicit weapons from Libya to various militant groups in the region as well as the fear that Syria may have already provided new missiles to Hezbollah. Read more “Israel Plans Naval Buildup in Mediterranean”

Uzbekistan Turns Into American Ally in Central Asia

Two successful visits from State Secretary Hillary Clinton and a visit of the Uzbek parliamentary delegation to the United States point to an establishment of increasingly close ties between the two states.

The United States seek to cement their relationship with Uzbekistan, a valuable strategic ally in the region, in order to reopen a transit point on Uzbek territory. The United States aim to keep some military personnel and equipment in Central Asia after the anticipated withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and, as such, Washington is conducting bilateral talks with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All three are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, with headquarters in Moscow. The United States’ bilateral strategic cooperation with either of these states would require the consent of the CSTO. Read more “Uzbekistan Turns Into American Ally in Central Asia”

Naval Tension Rising in Caspian Sea Region

The post-Soviet region has begun a high stakes arms race, fueled by competition for recently discovered oilfields. Intraregional competition is intense, along with a mutual desire between Russia and Iran to keep foreigners (Europe and the United States) from interfering.

While the international community works on deterring Iranian nuclear proliferation, the materiel buildup in Central Asia has garnered minimal attention. The vast geostrategic significance of the Caspian Sea is en route to becoming a future flashpoint with a first class security dilemma, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Oil politics are behind yet another burgeoning arms race, this time in the long overlooked Caspian Sea. Five coastal states are now competing to lay claim to the hydrocarbons it promises — and in a region where Iran and Russia have traditionally dominated, the post-Soviet states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are building up military capabilities of their own.

Despite all player states officially calling for solidarity on demilitarizing the Caspian, there is an oil funded buildup of ships — and suspicion, particularly because of uncertainty about how each player will respond to a given situation.

The United States have vowed to expand their influence in the area with the aim of supporting the smaller states against Iran and Russia. Read more “Naval Tension Rising in Caspian Sea Region”