EU Defense Union Worries Americans, Social Democrats Rally the Troops

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14 (NATO)

Americans continue to worry that closer defense cooperation in Europe might compromise NATO.

Echoing Madeleine Albright’s “three Ds” — no duplication, no decoupling, no discrimination against non-EU NATO states — Kay Bailey Hutchison, the United States ambassador to NATO, warned on Wednesday that European efforts shouldn’t be “protectionist, duplicative of NATO work or distracting from their alliance responsibilities.”

“In Texas we say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” the former senator added.

But transatlantic solidarity goes two ways. On the same day Hutchison cautioned European allies against weakening NATO, Defense Secretary James Mattis hectored them for failing to meet their defense spending targets.

Their boss, Donald Trump, has in the past declared NATO “obsolete”. Little wonder Europe is making its own plans.

Many of which complement NATO, from improving mobility by creating a “military Schengen” to developing a European infantry fighting vehicle.

Also read Tobias Buck in the Financial Times, who reports that Germany still has a long way to go before it can lead a European army. Read more “EU Defense Union Worries Americans, Social Democrats Rally the Troops”

EU Countries Deepen Defense Cooperation Outside NATO

German Leopard tanks on exercise in Bergen, January 23, 2015
German Leopard tanks on exercise in Bergen, January 23, 2015 (Bundeswehr)

European countries have agreed to deepen defense cooperation outside NATO.

The so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation involves 23 of the EU’s 28 member states.

Ireland and Portugal are expected to join later. Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom will probably stay out.

All EU countries in Central and Eastern Europe have signed up, despite their wariness of weakening defense ties with the United States. Read more “EU Countries Deepen Defense Cooperation Outside NATO”

Chemical Weapons in Syria Would Cross “Red Line”: Macron

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France meet outside the Palace of Versailles, May 29
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France meet outside the Palace of Versailles, May 29 (Elysée)

France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, has warned that his country could strike unilaterally if more poison gas is used in the Syrian conflict.

“If chemical weapons are used on the ground and we know how to find out their provenance, France will launch strikes to destroy the chemical weapons stocks,” he told European newspapers this week.

Macron came to power last month by defeating the Russia-friendly Marine Le Pen in the presidential election. He won a parliamentary majority this month. Read more “Chemical Weapons in Syria Would Cross “Red Line”: Macron”

Quit Talking About World War III

American soldiers observe a nuclear weapons test in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, November 15, 1952
American soldiers observe a nuclear weapons test in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, November 15, 1952 (NNSA)

Especially after the downing of a Syrian jet by the Americans.

It’s in The Sun, on talk radio and, of course, whispered by the “underground” corners of the Internet. Passive monitoring of geopolitical movements have led far too many to conclude the next world war is right around the corner.

It isn’t. Not that it can’t be, just that it isn’t. At least, not over Syria or North Korea. Read more “Quit Talking About World War III”

Bashar Assad’s Big Push to Recover His Eastern Border

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria enters a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, October 21, 2015
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria enters a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, October 21, 2015 (Kremlin)

Bashar al-Assad hadn’t had control of his Iraqi frontier for years. It’s a major headache; it’s allowed Sunni rebels to supply themselves from Anbar, a favorable route for Gulf states hoping to keep the war going.

It’s also allowed the Islamic State to slide supplies from its shrinking Iraqi domains to its shrunken Syrian ones.

The Islamic State famously demolished the literal border wall between the two countries. That was right after they blitzed across it to capture Mosul in June 2014.

Now Assad’s Iranian and Iraqi allies are hoping to rebuild the border and thereby secure the regime they’ve fought so hard to preserve. Read more “Bashar Assad’s Big Push to Recover His Eastern Border”

European Military Cooperation Need Not Weaken NATO

Italian and Portuguese army units take part in a NATO exercise in Santa Margarida, Portugal, October 21, 2015
Italian and Portuguese army units take part in a NATO exercise in Santa Margarida, Portugal, October 21, 2015 (Sebastien Frechette)

Tomáš Valášek, the director of Carnegie Europe, argues that European allies cannot assume Donald Trump’s aversion to NATO is an anomaly and the next president will put things right. The United States have been cooling on NATO for years, he writes:

A number of factors — a crisis in Europe that grips Americans’ imagination, an articulate pro-European leader in Washington, a crisis in the United States that the European allies help resolve — could revive America’s flagging interest in the alliance it created nearly seventy years ago. But for now, the passage of time and memories work against NATO.

Valášek is nevertheless uneasy about Europeans exploring a “backup” to the Atlantic alliance, arguing that continental security cooperation cannot come close to what Europe and North America have now.

Without plans, commands and sophisticated weapons in meaningful numbers, the Europeans may not on their own impress Russia, he warns — “and may therefore be unable to deter it from misbehaving.” Read more “European Military Cooperation Need Not Weaken NATO”

Syria’s Endgame

It has taken at least 400,000 dead and over ten million internally and externally displaced Syrians, but we are finally coming to the end game of the Syrian Civil War.

Last week, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan blithely announced in a news conference that Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, would be the final target of the Turkish invasion.

Today, Pentagon sources leaked that the United States might send large combat forces into Syria.

This comes on the heels of talks between Iran, Turkey and Russia aimed at ending the conflict.

At long last, a confluence of interest is emerging that is the beginning of the end of the Syrian Civil War. Read more “Syria’s Endgame”

Aleppo Has Fallen. Now What?

Aleppo Syria
View of Aleppo, Syria before the war, March 30, 2010 (Michał Unolt)

I am waiting to die or be captured.

That is the farewell message of one of the handful of remaining anti-Assad activists in Aleppo. As the Assad regime now triumphs a murderous, four-year-long victory, the question of what comes next must be asked.

Syria is a ruined country. It was a state imposed upon a land not yet a nation and while that state had made progress in building a Syrian nation over the past forty years under the Assad family, at the end of the day the corruption and incompetence of the regime coalesced into an uprising that almost immediately became a civil war.

As early as the summer of 2013, a year into the battle of Aleppo, Bashar al-Assad’s regime had concluded they would have to create a wilderness to manufacture peace. This they have done in several places, emptying out whole villages and neighborhoods and helping create the world’s largest postwar refugee crisis.

Under the barrage of relentless bombing, Russian and barrel, Aleppo, the symbol of the rebellion, has collapsed.

So now what? Read more “Aleppo Has Fallen. Now What?”

Slowly But Surely, Europe Gets Serious About Its Own Defense

Portuguese submarine
The Portuguese submarine Tridente participates in naval exercises with ships from NATO allies, November 5, 2015 (NATO)

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 “Slowly But Surely, Europe Gets Serious About Its Own Defense”

After Mosul Falls, What Then?

There are some 100,000 troops involved in the conquest (or reconquest, depending on your perspective) of Mosul. On the surface, the battle is meant to restore the Iraqi government to its full writ; a Baghdad-united Shia and Sunni realm, a nation state on the way to functionality. In other words, a normal country.

Ah, dreams.

Careful observation reveals a more wretched future. The Islamic State may be doomed, but that hardly means peace for Iraq. There are too many who want a piece of this particular pie.

Many players there are. Let’s start with the greatest of powers, who define the broadest outlines of geopolitics in the Middle East. Read more “After Mosul Falls, What Then?”