NATO to US: ‘Yessir, how high shall we jump, Mr. Trump, sir?’ – Herald and News

Candidate Donald Trump set off a furious controversy when he said NATO countries should pay their fair share of mutual defense costs and, later, that the treaty organization was obsolete because not enough of its efforts were directed against radical Islamic terrorism.

On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence took the Trump message to NATO headquarters in Brussels. And after all the controversy and complaining, NATOs response could be boiled down to a single sentence: Yes sir, Mr. Trump.

News reports from Pences news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg focused on Pences effort to reassure nervous NATO officials that the U.S. will stand behind its treaty commitments. It is my privilege here at the NATO headquarters to express the strong support of President Trump and the United States of America for NATO and our transatlantic alliance, Pence said. I can say with confidence, America will do our part.

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But at least as newsworthy was what happened next. Pence dropped the hammer of Trumps demands, and NATO quickly went along.

Europes defense requires Europes commitment as much as ours, Pence said. He reminded the group that in 2014 all 28 members of NATO promised to try to spend two percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. Only four countries, in addition to the U.S., are now meeting that standard. As a candidate, Trump repeatedly called for NATO to pay more, Pence noted.

And now Trump is president. So let me say again what I said this last weekend in Munich, Pence said The president of the United States and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defense, and the president expects real progress by the end of 2017. ... It is time for actions, not words.

Just in case anyone missed the message, Pence encouraged the NATO countries that dont spend two percent on defense to accelerate their plans to get there. And if you dont have a plan, Pence said, get one.

To which NATO quickly acceded. I fully support what has been underlined by President Trump and by Vice President Pence today, the importance of burden sharing, Stoltenberg said. I expect all allies to make good on the promise that we made in 2014 to increase defense spending and to make sure to have a fairer burden of sharing.

On the issue of terrorism, Stoltenberg said yes again. First, he noted that NATO is helping train security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and is contributing surveillance planes to the fight against the Islamic State. Then he added what Pence wanted to hear: But we agree that the alliance can, and should do more, in the fight against terrorism.

Its hard to overstate the near-hysteria that met Trumps fair share and obsolete comments. But the fact is, burden sharing is an old idea, and a non-controversial one. Modernizing NATOs approach in the age of the Islamic State is also eminently reasonable. And now NATO, facing the reality of a Trump presidency, has little choice but to go along.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump moved the NATO debate. After much fretting, and complaining, and denouncing, NATO did the simplest thing: It went along.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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NATO to US: 'Yessir, how high shall we jump, Mr. Trump, sir?' - Herald and News

3 things to know about the Trump administration’s warning shots on NATO – Washington Post

By Michael Hikari Cecire By Michael Hikari Cecire February 27

Americans cannot care more for your childrens security than you do, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis cautioned NATO defense ministers in Brussels in mid-February, urging European allies to get serious about providing for their own defense.

Mattis put the alliance on notice that U.S. patience was finite and suggested that Washingtons commitment to European security was potentially at risk, noting, [If] your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.

Do Mattiss warnings represent a genuine shift in U.S. policy on European security? Here are three things to know.

1) U.S. concern over European allies low levels of spending is not new. Mattis is only the latest U.S. defense secretary to voice frustrations about NATO burden-sharing. Former secretaries Ashton Carter, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates all offered similar concerns during their tenures at the Pentagon. Even former president Barack Obama expressed worries about free riders in Europe. This sentiment is not without merit, as the United States is the leading direct funder of NATO and U.S. defense spending represents nearly 75 percent of the total defense spending of the 28-member alliance.

Washingtons weariness over being Europes dominant security provider are long-standing and bipartisan. However, while Mattis was more diplomatic in his choice of language compared with President Donald Trumps acerbic style, the implication was clear. The U.S. security commitment to Europe depends on alliance partners meeting their 2006 promise to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

[Yes, NATO is sharing the defense burden. Heres what we found.]

2) NATOs target of 2 percent of GDP defense spending obfuscates as much as it reveals. Although Mattiss statements might compel NATO allies to spend more, this spending will not necessarily produce a better-prepared or more unified alliance. Defense spending is an indirect indicator of military readiness and includes variables that may have only an ancillary effect on military strength budget entries such as salaries, health care, pensions, accommodations, training and logistics. These noncombat budget items can easily devour defense spending.

[The Trump administration wants Europe to pay more to defend itself. Its not that easy.]

Each of the 28 NATO member states have different means and methods of spending. Allies that rely on conscription, such as Norway and Estonia, may be able to spend less on personnel per unit than countries with an all-volunteer military. States with socialized health care, such as Britain, do not have to pay separately for a parallel military health system, such as the one available to the U.S. military and their families.

Defense budgets are also tethered to a countrys relative purchasing power and spending efficiency. States that use military spending for economic development or political purposes can spend more without necessarily improving combat readiness. Valeri Ratchev, a Bulgarian defense expert, perhaps put it best when he wryly suggested that the best way for a country to meet the 2 percent spending target was simply to double thesalaries of troops.

Front-line states bordering Russia are already spending more. Poland and Estonia spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense, and other states on NATOs eastern flank are increasing their budgets in response to Russias annexation of Crimea in 2014. Yet Eastern European allies remain the most vulnerable of the NATO states.

By comparison, several of the most militarily credible NATO members dont quite hit the 2 percent target. France, one of the few NATO states capable of conducting large, complex military operations independently, spends just 1.78 percent of GDP on defense. Turkey, which operates extensively in Syria and fields the second-largest military in NATO after the United States, spends 1.56 percent of its GDP on defense.

Greece is one country that does hit the 2 percent target, spending about 2.4 percent of GDP on defense despite deep economic difficulties. But the bulk of Greek defense spending is oriented to counter neighboring Turkey, a fellow NATO member.

[Yes, Putin may be starting to win Georgia away from the West. Heres why that matters.]

3) The greater threat to NATO military readiness is about willpower, not money. Divergent threat perceptions and parochial interests among the 28 members do more damage to NATOs military credibility than spending ratios. As Russia demonstrated in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, decisiveness and first-mover advantage can compensate for limited resources and sophistication Russias defense budget is barely larger than Britains and smaller than Saudi Arabias.

Conversely, there is little evidence to suggest that a better-funded army would make more dovish allies such as Germany more inclined to more aggressively confront Russian aggression. While its recent troop deployment to the Baltics sends a strong message, Germany is generally regarded as skeptical over deterring Russia, and even toward NATO obligations overall.

A 2015 Pew survey found that only 38 percent of Germans supported using force to defend NATO allies, compared with 56 percent among U.S. respondents and 53 percent in Canada (which spends less than 1 percent on defense). The relevant measure of Germanys commitment to collective security is its willingness to act, not whether it spends 1 percent or 10 percent on defense.

[Worried about NATO? Here are 3 things to watch.]

Threat perceptions diverge strongly throughout the alliance. Even in Afghanistan, many NATO states chose to constrain their involvement through national caveats. Troop contingents from Germany, Italy and Spain, for instance, were restricted in the types of operations they conducted in-country, leaving more dangerous missions to contributors without caveats, such as the United States, Britain, Poland and over-performing non-NATO partnerssuch as Georgia.

It is not difficult to understand why the United States would seek more equitable spending from NATO allies, but Washington gains more from the security architecture NATO enshrines than it would from marginal increases in European defense spending. NATO has been a good deal for U.S. national security; its founding helped arrest a spiral of destructive intra-European conflicts and established norms that contributed to an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity in much of North America and Europe.

So even if every NATO ally hit the 2 percent target, Washington would still easily dominate aggregate NATO defense spending. The new administrations tough talk may make for good politics, but it is unclear whether it will do much to make Europe or the alliance stronger.

Michael Hikari Cecire is an international security analyst and a nonresident fellow at New America and the Foreign Policy Research Institute.


3 things to know about the Trump administration's warning shots on NATO - Washington Post

Editorial: Trump White House is figuring out NATO – Boulder Daily Camera

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 16. Mattis told NATO ministers that the alliance is "a fundamental bedrock for the United States" while at the same time demanding an increased financial commitment from the 27 other alliance members. (Virginia Mayo / AP)

Slowly, and against the odds, the Trump administration is inching toward a more coherent foreign policy in Western Europe.

President Donald Trump is, as usual, sending wildly mixed signals. He has said NATO the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is obsolete. He has been too cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently terrifying the leadership of free democracies in Europe.

But the president's subordinates have delivered a stronger, more reassuring message. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking in Belgium, said the U.S. remains committed to the defense alliance created during the presidency of Harry Truman.

"We need a strong alliance more than ever," Pence said. At the same time, the vice president delivered an important message to NATO allies: They must spend more on their armies and navies so the U.S. can spend less. "Europeans cannot ask the United States to commit to Europe's defense if they are not willing to commit more themselves," he said.

He's right. Only five of 28 NATO members meet or exceed the target threshold of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense a woefully low number. Spending less on tanks and planes means European nations including France and Italy can spend more on domestic programs in their nations or keep taxes low.

Those options should be available to U.S. taxpayers as well. Last year, according to the Financial Times, European NATO members spent $253 billion on defense. The United States spent $618 billion, far more than any nation on earth.

European nations have offered vague promises to review their military spending. They've also said humanitarian aid should be counted in their totals. Perhaps. We agree with the argument that U.S. military spending in Europe is good not only for Europeans, but also for Americans. It helps deter the Russians from threatening the region.

But Trump's murky relationship with Russia remains a matter of deep concern. We'd take his suggestions of detente with Russia more seriously if we didn't have the nagging feeling the president's personal and political interests are intertwined with Putin's. We're worried the Russians may be tempted to test the depth of that relationship, whatever it is.

That's why Pence's speech on NATO was significant. Someone is paying attention to foreign affairs, without one eye on the bottom line. America is $20 trillion in debt. We cannot police the world alone, a message the Trump administration, to its credit, appears to understand.

Kansas City Star

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Editorial: Trump White House is figuring out NATO - Boulder Daily Camera

Secretary General welcomes Armenian President to NATO Headquarters – NATO HQ (press release)

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Secretary General welcomes Armenian President to NATO Headquarters - NATO HQ (press release)

KSU Model NATO brings home awards from DC – KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper

Of the six awards brought home by KSU, five were committee awards. Photo credit: Model NATO Team

KSUs Model NATO team won six awards at the 2017 International Model NATO Conference, held in Washington D.C. from Feb. 14-19.

Of the six awards brought home by KSU, five were committee awards. The other was the Overall Outstanding Delegation Award, which was won by only four teams at the conference.

Twenty colleges and universities competed from across the United States, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Canada. Although some schools attended with more than one team, each team represented a different member nation of NATO. Students acted as delegates, defending their nations policies.

The Model NATO conference simulates a real meeting of NATO officials, said Brook Doss, a senior journalism major and the team leader for KSU. It focuses on diplomacy and small group negotiation to solve real world problems, as well as a crisis simulation that is built by the faculty.

Doss explained that, this year, the topic forced students to focus on counter-terrorism and cyber security.

[The teams] draft language that eventually becomes a resolution and goes into a final communique that is sent to the real NATO in Brussels, Doss explained.

KSUs nine-student team represented the Czech Republic, and faculty adviser and professor Stephen McKelvey was proud of the teams performance.

This was the best team we have had in decades, McKelvey said. I could not have asked for a better team.

As a part of the conference, the students went to the Embassy of the Czech Republic. The team was briefed by the First Secretary of the Embassy and the Minister-Counselor of the Embassy about Czech policy within NATO. This allowed the students to further solidify their stance in regards to the Czech Republics positions.

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KSU Model NATO brings home awards from DC - KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper

US experts confirm Russians played prank on NATO chief Stoltenberg report – RT

Published time: 27 Feb, 2017 15:31

Russian pranksters who called Jens Stoltenberg in early February, one of them introducing himself as Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, did indeed reach the NATO Secretary General, Life.ru reported, citing US experts.

After Life.ru initially published the conversation, NATO accused them of disinformation, the Russian tabloid says. It then decided to contact an American investigative agency to prove the authenticity of the recording.

Life.ru gave VIP Protective Services Inc., a company that employs former agents from FBI, CIA and a number of European agencies, their recordings that featured a conversation between the pranksters and, allegedly, NATO chief Stoltenberg.

The phone talk in question happened earlier this month, when prankster Lexus, who works in tandem with another man known as Vovan, introduced himself as Poroshenko and asked the supposed Jens Stoltenberg whether Ukraine could become a NATO member within the next two years, as advised by American partners.

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The prankster posing as the Ukrainian leader was then told that there might have been a misunderstanding, as to be able to meet the standards which are required for a NATO membership, Kiev officials have to do more and focus on reform.

READ MORE: Ukrainian pilot relaxes dry hunger strike after pranksters send fake Poroshenko letter

The person who the prankster spoke to was indeed Stoltenberg, the US agency concluded, according to Life.ru. Having analyzed the files they received for voice identification comparison, one known and one unknown speaker are the same speaker, it said.

A number of features including pitch, mannerisms and even breath patterns have been used for the voice identification analysis, it added, saying that the most precise approach has been taken to identify if the person making comments on Ukraine's NATO membership is Stoltenberg.

Earlier, a Russian expert came to the same conclusion, Life.ru reported.

The pranksters gained popularity in Russia after they managed to speak over the phone with a number of high ranking officials and celebrities. Lexus and Vovan once made Elton John believe he had spoken to President Vladimir Putin about gay rights which later led to a Kremlin promise to meet with the British pop icon for real.

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US experts confirm Russians played prank on NATO chief Stoltenberg report - RT

3 Changes NATO Must Make To Remain A True Alliance – Forbes

3 Changes NATO Must Make To Remain A True Alliance
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with defense ministers from other NATO member countries in Brussels on Feb. 15. He had a message to deliver from the Trump White House. The meeting was closed, but some of Mattis's comments were released ...
Reshaping NATO?FrontPage Magazine
NATO Revamped: Why the Alliance Needs to ChangeThe National Interest Online
Only 5 of 28 NATO member countries meet their defense spending requirementsAmeriForce Publishing, Inc.
all 6 news articles »

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3 Changes NATO Must Make To Remain A True Alliance - Forbes

A stronger NATO for a safer world – The Hill (blog)

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary James Mattis, at a joint press conference on Feb. 15 with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, stated: America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense. This statement is significant, not only for its content but for its context.

In just the last week, it was reported that a Russian intelligence collection ship was operating off the east coast of the United States; Russia had deployed a new missile system to NATOs borders that may violate the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty; and Russian military aircraft had conducted high-speed passes over U.S. Navy ships operating in the Black Sea.

While an intelligence ship operating near the coast and aircraft buzzing U.S. Navy ships are not necessarily new, particularly in recent years, the deployment of a new missile system that violates a long-standing treaty is certainly something new, and further reveals Vladimir Putins strategic intentions to undermine the West and its institutions.

Within this context, it was reassuring to many at home, and certainly to our allies in Europe, that during appearances at the Munich Security Conference and the NATO ministerial respectively, Mattis and Vice President Pence reaffirmed the United Statess commitment to NATO, and also made it clear that Russia would be held accountable for its actions.

Mattis went a bit further in noting that any cooperation would be contingent on Russia first taking positive steps to meet its obligations. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his first face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, insisted that Russia live up to the terms of the Minsk agreement and limit its involvement in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

Given the assertions about potential divisions in the Trump administration, could these statements from Mattis and Tillerson reveal some kind of good cop, bad cop routine, with the president playing the good cop in an otherwise hard-line administration?

Or is it, as our European allies worry, just a symptom of a dysfunctional administration?

Only time will tell. But what is needed now is not good cop, bad cop. What is needed is clarity of purpose and resolve.

If Winston Churchill were with us today, he may have reiterated one of his well-known statements from the WWI period: It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary. Churchills point is as insightful today as it was in his time.

Sen. John McCainJohn McCainFather of slain Navy SEAL wants investigation A stronger NATO for a safer world Drug importation won't save dollars or lives MORE (R-Ariz.) clearly took on that mantle of leadership and resolve in his speech at the Munich conference, closely echoing Churchills words: The unprecedented period of security and prosperity that we have enjoyed for the past seven decades did not happen by accident. It happened not only because of the appeal of our values, but because we backed them with our power and persevered in their defense. Our predecessors did not believe in the end of history or that it bends, inevitably, toward justice. That is up to us. That requires our persistent, painstaking effort.

Given the level of effort that the United States has put into reinvigorating its involvement in European security, it is understandable that the president and the American people expect our allies to meet their treaty requirements. This is nothing new; the last three administrations have pushed our NATO allies to step up their funding for defense. However, the events of today require a renewed and unambiguous call for NATO member countries to meet their obligations.

From our time on Capitol Hill and in various other meetings and conferences, we have met with U.S. and allied military commanders. There is a clear commitment among the uniformed services of our alliance partners to increase joint training and improve our force structure in Europe. What is needed now is a political commitment to providing the resources required to enable that cooperation.

The Obama administration took some small steps in that direction, though Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army Forces in Europe, must be given a great deal of credit. He seized the initiative and pushed for more forward deployed U.S. equipment and personnel in Europe. Hodges's leadership is commendable, but the full commitment to the alliance, the security of Europe, and Western interests cannot rest with one generals ingenuity and sheer will.

Nor can any of this be protected with only a portion of the NATO alliance meeting their full commitment. In the words of the NATO secretary-general: The challenges we face are the most complex and demanding in a generation. Neither Europe nor North America can tackle them alone. A strong NATO is good for Europe, a strong Europe is good for North America.

The events of today require a renewed and unambiguous call for NATO member countries to meet their obligations. However, building the public awareness and the political will to meet those obligations is unlikely to be accomplished solely through the holding of joint press conferences on the margins of a ministerial meetings or international conferences. The leaders of NATO, European thought leaders, influencers and activists must commit to visiting the member states who are not currently meeting the funding threshold and taking the case to the people.

This outreach should be accompanied by a media campaign that takes advantage of the various social networks to bring a new generation of supports to the NATO cause. The message must be clear and unequivocal: The threats of the past are re-emerging, the threat of terrorism grows with each passing day, and we need to be more, not less, involved in the conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East so that we can meet the threat of terrorism before it reaches the shores of Europe or North America. No one country, no matter how powerful, can protect us.

We, in the West, must heed the words of Churchill, in another time and McCain, in our time and be in this together.

Joseph Whited is the former Intelligence Lead for the House Armed Services Committee. He spent over 18 years serving in the intelligence community.

Alex Gallo is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and served as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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A stronger NATO for a safer world - The Hill (blog)

Facing Russia and Terrorism, a NATO Outsider Urges EU to Step Up – Bloomberg


February 26, 2017, 5:00 PM EST February 27, 2017, 1:56 AM EST

Finland is urging Europe to increase NATO contributions and focus more on security as the continent grapples with political turmoil from all sides, including from within.

Once the U.K. has quit the European Union, the 27 nations left behind need to double down on the blocs founding principle and give the remaining 444 million citizens what they most crave: security,Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview at his seaside residence in Helsinki on Friday. The 68-year-old is head of state of the nation that shares the EUs longest border with Russia, a country with which Finland has regular contact for security and practical reasons.

Sauli Niinisto on Friday, Feb. 24.

Photographer: Roni Rekomaa/Bloomberg

The discussion dealing with security is one of those elements where we have the possibility to ensure European citizens that Brussels can take care of your security and that would be a huge message these days, Niinisto said.

The comments come as a spate of elections threatens to deepen the EUs biggest existential crisis in its 60-year history.The bloc is also being challenged in the east by Russia and in the west by a new U.S. administration that has predicted its disintegration, just over four years after it won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Finnish president urges Europe to increase NATO contributions

Source: Bloomberg)

As it struggles to regain the legitimacy it lost in the eyes of many of its citizens following the debt crisis, the EU now faces a populist swell that threatens to undo many of the blocs founding principles.

Niinisto said a shift away from the center in French politics in connection with elections starting in April wouldnt be a minor issue. He also stated his belief that National Front candidate Marine Le Pen wont win the presidency on May 7. She has said she wants to take the euro zones second-biggest economy out of the single currency bloc.

Niinisto warns that, after a generation of peace, theres a risk the EU has grown too complacent to the security risks it faces. Terrorist attacks in the heart of the EU -- in Paris, Brussels and Berlin -- underscore the need for safeguards.

In Europe we have been living in very peaceful decades and during that time very many countries have actually a bit forgotten the security details and policy, he said. Now its coming back.

He also says that decades of U.S. demands, reiterated by the new administration, that European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization foot their share of the security bill are understandable.

If theres an agreement, surely it should be fulfilled, he said.

Finland, which has stayed out of NATO largely due to its proximity to Russia, is building closer military ties with neighboring Sweden, which is also militarily non-aligned.

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Germany, Europes biggest economy, is working toward raising its military budget to reach NATOs target of 2 percent of gross domestic product, Chancellor Angela Merkel said this month. If Germany and France alone were to meet that target by 2024, it could add more than $40 billion to their defense spending, almost two-thirds the amount Russia spends. But European nations have so far refused to consolidate their defense industries or procurement, meaning the euros they do spend dont have as much clout as each dollar spent by the U.S. or every ruble spent by Russia.

Im sure that individuals, families around Europe, feel a bit unsafe, Niinisto said. My thinking is that maybe the main task that the union has is to make sure for everybody that they can live in peace, that they can work in peace, that they can develop their society in peace.

Niinisto said he is in contact with Moscow, Berlin and Washington -- though is put off by self-declared peace mediators not appointed to such roles. Finlands contacts with Russia are maybe a bit more frequent, thats because were close to Russia, he said. Its one of the main pillars of our security policy to keep up the dialogue.

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Facing Russia and Terrorism, a NATO Outsider Urges EU to Step Up - Bloomberg

An Alternative to NATO Expansion That Won’t Antagonize Russia – Wall Street Journal (subscription)

An Alternative to NATO Expansion That Won't Antagonize Russia
Wall Street Journal (subscription)
Lost in the brouhaha over whether President Trump and his team are too friendly toward Russian President Vladimir Putin is a more important question. If the Trump administration is serious about its worthy goal of improving U.S. relations with Russia ...

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An Alternative to NATO Expansion That Won't Antagonize Russia - Wall Street Journal (subscription)

EU, NATO urge Macedonian leader to allow new government – POLITICO.eu

Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), greets supporters in front of the government building after parliamentary elections in Skopje on December 11, 2016 | Robert Atanasovski/AFP via Getty Images

The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia said it has secured a coalition.

By David M. Herszenhorn

2/27/17, 2:09 AM CET

The European Commission and NATO urged the president of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, Sunday to abide by the countrys constitution and allow the formation of an opposition-led government, as the tiny Balkan country faced a crucial test of democratic norms.

Ivanovs party, VMRO-DPMNE, has controlled the government since 2006 and has largely dominated the countrys politics since 1990. But while thecenter-right VMRO-DPMNE finished first in parliamentary elections in December, winning51 seats, it failed to form a government, which requires a coalition of at least 61 MPs.

TheSocial Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which finished second in the elections with 49 seats, says it has secured a coalition and is demanding a mandate from Ivanov to form a government and install the partysleader, Zoran Zaev, as prime minister.

Zaev said he had clinched the needed votes byforging a deal withthe countrys largest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), and smaller Albanian parties.

After nearly 11 years of living under a regime, we have the chance to form a new democratic government of Macedonia, Zaev said in a statement, according to the Macedonian Information Agency, the official news service. Ivanvov has said he would give a mandate to form a government to a coalition with 61 votes, provided it would not violate the unitary character of Macedonia.

Zaevs deal apparently includes support for a law that would give Albanian status as an official language, a move that could give Ivanov a basis for trying to block the new government.

In what appeared to be a last-ditch power play, Nikola Gruevski, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, issued a statement late Sunday night offering to back a Zaev-led government, but only if Zaev abandoned the language law and other proposals Gruevski insisted would splinter the country along ethnic lines.

If Zaev insists so badly to be prime minister, we will let him implement his program so long as he doesnt attack the state and national interests, Gruevski said, according to the MIA news service.

In an angry statement that bordered on a rant, Gruevski offered to be arrested, imprisoned, harassed, if needed to protect the country, and alleged that foreign meddlers including an unnamed foreign ambassador and George Soros, the billionaire civil-society activist, were trying to weaken Macedonia and have Zaev enthroned as prime minister.

In a statement on Sunday, Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, urgedIvanov to allow the formation of the SDSM-led government.

As enough signatures of MPs have been collected, Hahn said, We now expect the president to give the mandate to form the next government to the candidate from the parties which have the majority in the assembly, in line with the constitution.

In a pointed warning, Hahn continued, Change in democratic societies is natural and should be embraced, whenit is a result of credible elections. Accepting and respecting the election result and the right of leaders to try to form a government is a sign of a mature democracy. Obstructing and undermining such efforts has no place in a democratic process.

He added, We call on all relevant actors, including the president and the parliament, to act fully in line with the constitutions letter and spirit and in a responsible manner, to enable a swift formation of a government that will address overdue reforms.

In astatement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that the December parliamentary elections were well-administered and also called for Ivanov to let the process move forward.

Following one attempt to form a government, it has been announced that, in line with the requirement specified by the president, enough MPs signatures have now been collected, Stoltenberg said. I look to the authorities in Skopje to fulfill the next step in the democratic process. I call on all parties to exercise restraint in statements and actions, and take decisions for the benefit of all citizens.

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EU, NATO urge Macedonian leader to allow new government - POLITICO.eu

Letter: NATO more important than ever – The Sudbury Star

Re: Tell PM, Merkel Cold War is over, Feb. 22.

Au contraire Mr. Petricevic. The Cold War is not over, in fact these are the most dangerous times in 25 years. There is a Russian army threatening Europe, that has already annexed Crimea, is occupying Eastern Ukraine, has shot down a commercial airliner, is menacing the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, and is putting missiles aimed at Europe in Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania.

Russian President Vladimir Putin aided Bashir Al Assad against the rebels rather than ISIS and every once in a while threatens to cut off gas supplies to Europe. Putin has allied his military with Iran. He has hacked into the U.S. elections, threatening elections in Germany and France.

NATO is needed now more than ever. Trump is way off base suggesting NATO is obsolete. He has coddled Russia for whatever reason, although one can hazard a guess. Fortunately, Gen. Mattis understands the threat that Russia poses and will counter Trumps non-expertise in military matters.

Arne Suutari


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Letter: NATO more important than ever - The Sudbury Star

NATO’s Crazy Plan to Find Russian Submarines Was a Total ‘Flop’ – The National Interest Online (blog)

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had so many hundreds of deadly submarines at sea that Western war planners willing to try almost any possible countermeasure, however goofy sounding.

Some seemingly crazy ideas proved actually worthwhile, such as the underwater Sound Surveillance Systema vast chain of seafloor microphones that patiently listened for Soviet subs and remains in use today.

Other less elegant anti-submarine tools survive only as anecdotes. In his book Hunter Killers, naval writer Iain Ballantyne recalls one of the zanier ideasair-dropped floppy-magnets meant to foul up Soviet undersea boats, making them noisier and easier to detect.

From the late 1940s on, captured German technology boosted Soviet postwar submarine design. Soviet shipyards delivered subs good enoughand numerous enoughto pose a huge danger to Western shipping.

By the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR controlled the largest submarine force in the worldsome 300 diesel-electric submarines and a handful of nuclear-propelled models. NATO navies couldnt keep up. We simply do not have enough forces, Vice Adm. R.M. Smeeton stated.

NATO war planners feared only nuclear escalation could check the Soviet submarine wolf packsthat is, atomic strikes on sub bases along the Russian coast.

But the nuclear solution was worse than the problem. We can take steps to make sure the enemy is fully aware of where his course of action is leading him without nuclear weapons, Smeeton said, but we cannot go to war that way.

Desperate planners sought ways of making Soviet subs easier to hunt. Any technology that could speed up an undersea search was worth considering. A submarines best defense is of course stealth, remaining quiet and undetected in the ocean deep, Ballantyne notes. Something that could rob the Soviets of that cloak of silence must have seemed irresistible and, at least initially, a stroke of genius.

A Canadian scientist figured some kind of sticky undersea noisemaker would make a Soviet sub more detectable. He designed a simple hinged cluster of magnets that could attach to a submarines metal hull.

Movement would cause the flopping magnets to bang against the hull like a loose screen door, giving away the subs location to anyone listening. The simple devices would take time and effort to remove, thus also impairing the Soviet undersea fleets readiness.

At least that was the idea.


In late 1962, the British Admiralty dispatched the A-class diesel submarine HMS Auriga to Nova Scotia for joint anti-submarine training with the Canadian navy. The British were helping Canada establish a submarine force, s0 Royal Navy subs routinely exercised with Canadian vessels.

Auriga had just returned to the submarine base at Faslane, Scotland after a combat patrol as part of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other subs of the joint Canadian-British Submarine Squadron Six at Halifax had seen action during the Crisis.

The 1945-vintage Auriga spent much of her time in Nova Scotia simulating Soviet diesel subs during hazardous under-ice ASW practice with U.S. and Canadian forces. During a typical three-week exercise, Auriga would be subject to the attentions of surface vessels, aircraft and other subs, including the U.S. Navys new nuke boats.

During one open-ocean exercise, Auriga was given the floppy-magnet treatment. A Canadian patrol plane flew over Aurigas submerged position and dropped a full load of the widgets into the sea.

As weird as it sounded, the magnet concept proved a resounding success. Enough magnets fell on or near Aurigas hull to stick and flop. Banging and clanking with a godawful racket, the magnets gave sonar operators tracking the sub a field day. Then the trouble started.

As Auriga surfaced at the end of the exercise, the magnets made their way into holes and slots in the subs outer hull designed to let water flow. They basically slid down the hull, Ballantyne says of the magnets, and remained firmly fixed inside the casing, on top of the ballast tanks, in various nooks and crannies.

The floppy-magnets couldnt be removed at sea. In fact, they couldnt be removed at all until the submarine dry-docked back in Halifax weeks later.

In the meantime, one of Her Majesty's submarines was about as stealthy as a mariachi band. No fighting, no training, no nothing until all those floppy little magnets were dug out of her skin at a cost of time, money and frustration.

The magnets worked on the Soviets with the same maddening results. The crews of several Foxtrots were driven bonkers by the noise and returned to port rather than complete their cruises.

Now, the Soviet navy could afford to furlough a sub or two, but NATO could not. Anti-submarine crews couldnt practice with floppy-magnets attached to their exercise targets.

The floppy-magnets worked exactly as intended, but they were simply too messy to train with to be practical on a large scale. It seems NATO deployed them only a few times.

The submarine-fouling floppy-magnet turned out to be, well, a flop.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.

Image: Creative Commons.

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NATO's Crazy Plan to Find Russian Submarines Was a Total 'Flop' - The National Interest Online (blog)

The Only 5 Countries That Meet NATO’s Defense Spending Requirements – TIME

Poland's 6th Airborne Brigade soldiers walk with U.S. 82nd Airborne Division soldiers during the NATO allies' Anakonda 16 exercise near Torun, Poland, on June 7, 2016. Kacper PempelReuters

Getting NATO allies to spend more on defense is one of President Donald Trumps most consistent foreign policy proposals. He might be on to something.

According to NATOs own figures, just 5 of the 28 alliance members meet the requirement agreed upon in 2006 that members spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Here's a deeper look at the handful of countries actually meeting their obligations:

1. The U.S. 3.61 percent of GDP on defense

The self-imposed 2 percent threshold has never made much practical difference to the U.S., which has been spending on its military at a much higher rate since World War II. Thats what happens when youre locked in an arms-race with a nuclear-armed superpower. But even after the Soviet Union fell in 1991, U.S. military spending dipped but never went below 2 percent. And since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, its moved sharply higher. Today, the U.S. outspends the next seven nations combined when it comes to defense. In fiscal year 2017, the U.S. plans to spend $582.7 billion on defense, more than the entire national economic output of all but 20 countries in the world.

Trump is not wrong when he says the U.S. pays more than its fair share. After all, the rest of NATOs members combined spent less than half of what the U.S. budgeted (in absolute terms) in 2016. But, in rattling NATOs cage, Trump also has to contend with the alliances popularity among Americans. Some 77 percent of Americans believe NATO membership benefits the U.S. Then theres the fact that his message for more NATO solidarity is undercut by his support for Brexit and other moves to diminish the E.U.

2. Greece 2.38 percent of GDP spent on defense

Given its current economic woes, you might be surprised to see Greece on the list. But Greece has been splashing out for decades, averaging a defense budget of 6.2 percent of GDP throughout the 1980s . Much of this has to do with its historically tense relationship with Turkey, a fellow NATO member currently helmed by a president prone to brash rhetoric and not-so-veiled threats.

Then theres the fact that the Greek military employs 2.7 percent of the Greece labor force , according to 2013 figures. With an overall unemployment rate at around 23 percent , every little bit helps. Mandatory conscription also doesnt hurt. And its worth noting that Greeces overall GDP shrunk 45 percent between 2008 and 2015 , which helps keep their NATO contribution as a percentage of GDP look bigger despite massive cuts. Back in 2009, Greece was spending roughly $10 billion on defense. By 2015, it was spending just $4.6 billion, but that still managed to push it over the NATO threshold.

3. United Kingdom 2.21 percent of GDP spent on defense

At the end of the day, 2 percent is an arbitrary figure, and one thats difficult to calculate at that. That much has been made clear by the current row gripping the UK; the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) announced last week that the UK was not in fact meeting its 2 percent commitment. Instead, the London-based think tank estimates the government is only spending 1.98 percent of its GDP on defense. Ministry of Defense officials hit back, saying that NATOs own figures show that the country is meeting its commitments, while the British opposition accused the government of changing its accounting methods to give the illusion of keeping the commitment.

Whether or not Britain is actually meeting its NATO commitments is a big deal. When U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May visited Donald Trump in January, she pledged to encourage other NATO members to fulfill their obligations in exchange for Trumps 100 percent commitment to NATO . The fact that the U.K. may not be fulfilling those same obligations may rankle Trump at a time when the Brexit-bound Britain needs all the friends it can get.

4. Estonia 2.16 percent of GDP spent on defense

Then there are the Baltics, on the frontlines with Russia. While Estonia is the only one of the three Baltic states that actually meets NATOs 2 percent threshold, it actually spends less than Lithuania in absolute terms . On the heels of Russias 2014 annexation of Crimea, both Latvia and Lithuania pledged to meet the NATO threshold by 2018. Theyre well on their way, and by 2020 the three Baltic countries are together planning to spend nearly $2 billion a year on defense, more than double when they first entered NATO in 2004.

But as I discussed with the Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference, the fear of Russia has fundamentally morphed. Shes no longer worried about cross-border tensions or the roughly 26 percent of ethnic Russians who make up her countrys population. Instead, shes focused on Kremlin-sponsored propaganda and fake news aimed at delegitimizing her government. And as the U.S. can attest, big military spending alone isnt enough to prevent that.

5. Poland 2 percent of GDP spent on defense

Rounding out the list is Poland, which just squeaks past the mandated 2 percent threshold. But Poland is a particularly interesting story. Even though Warsaw scrapped compulsory military service back in 2008, the last few years have seen a rise in organized paramilitary forces. These groups pay for their own uniforms and weapons, and practice military exercises over the weekend. The fact that Poland borders a piece of isolated Russian territory called Kaliningrad is not lost on these Poles. Since Russias invasion of Crimea, the absolute number of people joining the approximately 120 paramilitary organizations has tripled . Theyve also won support from the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, which intends to have 53,000 of these part-time soldiers spread throughout the country by 2019 as a sort of national guard. That would be equivalent to 1/3 of all Polish military personnel . Sometimes, military preparedness goes beyond the headline number.

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The Only 5 Countries That Meet NATO's Defense Spending Requirements - TIME

NATO develops telemedicine system to save lives in emergencies – NATO HQ (press release)

NATO has developed a multinational telemedicine system, enabling medical specialists to provide real-time recommendations to first responders at emergency scenes or in combat zones. On Friday (24 February 2017), a high-level conference at NATO headquarters marked the completion of this project, supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme.

The telemedicine system can be used both by the military and civilian paramedics. In the event of a disaster, telemedicine helps eliminate distance barriers and improves access to medical services that would often not be available on the ground, even in remote areas, explained Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.

Thanks to telemedicine, medical specialists, located in different parts of the world, are ableto assess patients, diagnose them and provide real-time recommendations. Portable medical kits allow first responders at the scene to connect to the system, receiving expert advice from medical specialists. This allows the right aid and care to reach those who need it most quickly, with the potential to save many lives in disasters.

Launched in 2013, the project was led by scientists and experts from NATO Allies Romania and the United States and partner countries Finland, Moldova and Ukraine. Allies and partners provided advanced equipment, such as kits for connectivity and solar panels, as well as training for experts. NATOs Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) provided expertise on communications technologies.

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NATO develops telemedicine system to save lives in emergencies - NATO HQ (press release)

Darmanovi: Montenegro in NATO by the end of May – European Western Balkans (press release)

PODGORICA - Montenegro received guarantees that the US Senate will ratify the NATO Accession Protocol, said Minister of Foreign Affairs Sra Darmanovi in an interview for Reuters, Montenegrin CDM reports.

He said that he was expecting Montenegro to become a full fledged member by the end of May. He said that they received a 100% guarantee that the US Senate would ratify the Protocol.

He denied claims that the ratification could be victim to Trumps administration desire to improve relations with Russia.

We understand that Trump wants to improve relations in Russia, especially when it comes to war on terrorism, but we do not see signs that point to sacrificing basic US national interests, Darmanovi said.

He reminded that out 28 NATO members, four have not ratified yet, out of procedural reasons the US, Canada, Netherlands and Spain.

We expect audition at the next summit in the end of May. It is reasonable to expect that all the procedures would be finalized by then, Darmanovi said.

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Darmanovi: Montenegro in NATO by the end of May - European Western Balkans (press release)

Iowa Air Guard Refueling Wing Supports NATO Missions – Department of Defense

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Ter Haar, Iowa Air National Guard

NATO AIR BASE GEILENKIRCHEN, Germany, Feb. 24, 2017 This month, members of the Iowa Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing based in Sioux City, Iowa, are refueling NATO Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft while assigned here.

Approximately 40 members from the 185th are in Germany for two weeks supporting NATO missions.

The AWACS involves multifaceted radar equipped aircraft that provide surveillance and command and control for NATO areas of responsibility. Onboard aircraft crews provide communications and control for U.S. and partner nations, while also keeping a close eye on potential adversaries. These missions require long flight times and inflight refueling provided by Air Guard units like the 185th.

According to Royal Netherlands Air Force Capt. Andr Bongers, a public affairs officer stationed at Geilenkirchen, the long-standing partnership with the Air Guard is important to maintaining stability in the region.

A Very Successful Partnership

"This has always been a very successful partnership. During 40 weeks per year the Air Guard provides essential training to the NATO E-3A Component. This is vital because pilots at the E-3A Component normally stay around for only four years, Bongers said. This means theres a high demand for training to ensure new crew members are combat ready. The high level of professionalism and flexibility delivered by the Air Guard is of great importance to get the right amount of training."

NATO AWACS play a critical role in many ongoing missions in the region, Bongers said, such as counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operations, Eastern Europe surveillances and Mediterranean maritime operations. He said they also fly for high visibility events such as the recent NATO summit in Warsaw and big regional exercises like Red Flag and Arctic Challenge.

According to Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Bosch, the Air National Guards liaison in Geilenkirchen, the Air Guard has been working with NATO forces since 2015. Bosch also said that the Air Guard brings a level of unmatched experience to refueling operations, especially units like the 185th.

"It is always a pleasure having the 185th. This wing has a special dedication to this mission and shows time and again how much they love our mission here. Sioux City always brings their "A" game to make this special spot better than when they arrived," Bosch said.

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Iowa Air Guard Refueling Wing Supports NATO Missions - Department of Defense

Why Europe is so confused by the Trump administration on NATO – Vox

During a panel at the Brookings Institution on Thursday morning, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, strongly assured his audience that the US remains committed to NATO.

The problem is that the Trump administration keeps suggesting otherwise and many allies arent sure what to believe.

During his remarks, Dunford said other NATO members needed to spend more on their militaries, but stressed that there was no ambiguity about Washingtons devotion to the alliance. And he reaffirmed that the US is bound by the duty enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO charter that an attack against one member is an attack against them all.

"I don't think there is any question about our commitment to NATO," Dunford said in a soothing tone.

But his words are unlikely to bring much comfort to Washingtons allies in Europe. They have questions many of them. President Donald Trump and his team have been offering conflicting signals on NATO for months, and its becoming exceedingly difficult to parse the exact meaning of the administrations rhetoric.

While the US has long chided fellow NATO members for failing to spend the required 2 percent of GDP on defense most fall below it Washington is for the first time threatening to act on its complaint by cutting US support for the alliance or possibly even withdrawing altogether.

On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence said in Brussels that the Trump administrations support for NATO is unwavering.

But alongside the carrot, Pence offered a stick: "The president expects real progress by the end of 2017, he said. The patience of the American people will not endure forever. Its unclear what an exhaustion of patience would actually mean for the USs commitment to NATO.

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis offered a vague blend of encouragement and warning to NATO allies during his debut trip to Brussels. He affirmed US backing of NATO, which he characterized as a fundamental bedrock for the US and all the transatlantic community.

But he also made it clear that the bond wouldn't necessarily last forever.

"America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense," he said.

Diplomats and analysts were left scratching their heads, wondering what Mattis actually meant. What would moderate mean? When exactly would that happen? And how can the USs commitment be so strong and so precarious at the same time?

Trump is at the heart of the uncertainty surrounding the future of NATO. On his path to the White House, he repeatedly slammed NATO as obsolete and criticized allies for not pulling their weight on defense spending. Then he reversed his position on NATO, based on the either misguided or deliberately false claim that NATO had changed their policy due to his criticism. Later on, he expressed ambivalence about it. Then right before taking office, he decided that the alliance was, in fact, obsolete. Now in office, his team is trying to thread the needle by saying the US loves NATO but its love is conditional.

There are other factors contributing to allies concerns about Trumps commitment to NATO as well. Diplomats the world over know that Trump likes to conduct diplomacy using Twitter without consulting experts or the rest of his administration; official statements from his press secretary or Cabinet members can easily be unraveled by a furious tweet in response to the latest report Trump watched on Fox News.

That impulsive unpredictability cuts both ways it might make Europe more anxious to try to appease him, and make leaders try to rally their countries to spend more on defense just in case Trump really means what he says. But it may also make it harder for leaders to convince their countries that his words are more than thoughtless stream of consciousness, forgotten shortly after theyre uttered.

Then there is Trumps sustained interest in warming ties with Russia. From effusive praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin to business ties with Russian investors to his personal lawyers recent meeting with pro-Russian advocates seeking a path to lift sanctions on Russia, Trumps fondness for Russia has NATO allies on edge.

The military alliance was originally formed after World War II to deter Soviet aggression, and today one of its functions is to discourage Russian expansionism in Europe. But Trumps bid to win over the Kremlin could lead him to be less concerned about that priority. European nations dont know how seriously Trump takes their security.

The only thing thats clear right now is that the US is losing the trust of its friends.

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Why Europe is so confused by the Trump administration on NATO - Vox

Le Pen blasts EU, NATO, praises Trump – Deutsche Welle

France's far-right presidential front runner Marine Le Pen sounded a full-throated rejection of global trade deals and multilateral governance, defending in soaring terms Thursday the importance ofcultural identity and national independence.

In a keynote foreign policy speech in Paris, Le Pen offered withering criticism of the European Union and NATO and decried what she essentially described as Western meddling in countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Russia and Turkey that she claimed have increased instability, broken bilateral promises and betrayed the wishes of the people.

"I don't want to promote a French or a Western system. I don't want to promote a universal system," Le Pen told a packed audience of reporters, diplomats and supporters in an elegant conference hall near the Champs Elysees. "To the contrary, I want to promote a respect of cultures and peoples."

Le Pen's lofty discourse offered a stark counterpoint to the Front National's more abrasive grassroots image as an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, populist party. She described France under her governance as a champion of "oppressed people, which speaks out for the voiceless and carries something powerful and great."

Le Pen has indicated she would seek a new deal with the EU, or "Frexit"

She also took no questions and continued calmly on after a bare-chested Femen protester sought to interrupt her remarks, before being carried, still shouting, out of the room.

Scandal over EU funds

A pair of polls out Thursday confirmed Le Pen remains the favored candidate in a presidential race that has been full of surprises, despite being mired in an ongoing scandal over the alleged misuse of European Union fundsto pay for several Front National staff. Still, almost every survey to date shows her winning the first round of presidential elections in April, but failing to prevail in a May runoff.

For 48-year-old Le Pen, Thursday's speech was the second chance in a week to burnish her foreign policy credentials. European leaders have snubbed her, but she had better luck earlier this week in Lebanon, where she met with the country's president and prime minister. She also stirred controversy by cancelling a meeting with the Lebanese grand mufti after refusing to wear a headscarf.

"Going to Lebanon showed she could look presidential," says Philippe Moreau Defarges, senior fellow at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. Noting the country was both a former French colony and held an important Christian community - a key them for the National Front - he added, "it allowed Mrs. Le Pen to look like both a patriot and a Christian."

Old and new themes

Le Pen's address touched on some familiar themes, as she railed against the European Union, NATO and free trade. But she also waded into new territory - or at least offered new nuances - as she described forging a new relationship with Africa based on "frankness, respect and mutual cooperation."

Like UKIP's Nigel Farage, Le Pen has warm words for US President Donald Trump

Yet much of her discourse was thin on specifics. Le Pen called for environmental security without defining it, and did not address key issues like whether France would stick to the Iran nuclear agreement under her leadership or a two-state solution in the Middle East.

"If you don't pay attention to the details and just listen to the rhetoric, it sounds very French, very classical legalism," Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, Paris office head of the European Council of Foreign relations think-tank, describing Le Pens traditional discourse.

"If you pay a bit more attention, it's a clear departure from the kind of mainstream foreign policy followed by France since the cold war."

Hike in defense spending

On defense, Le Pen reiterated her distaste for NATO, instead calling for a policy based on French national interests and vowing to hike French defense spending to two percent of its GDP - increased to 3 percent by the end of her five-year term.

On the Middle East, she criticised western efforts to strike deals with Syria's moderate opposition - which ultimately "helped arm the Islamic State." She said cutting off relations with Damascus had been "more than an error" that made France, which has sustained three major terrorist attacks in two years, more vulnerable at home.

"How many attacks on French soil could relations with Syrian services have avoided?" Le Pen asked.

'Change of software'

She also renewed calls for forging better relations with Moscow, saying Russia had been 'badly treated' by both the EU and the United States. France's 2014 cancelation of a sale of Mistral warships to Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine, she said, was a case in point.

Not surprisingly, Le Pen had warm words for Donald Trump; she was among the first foreign politicians to hail his November victory, even before it was formally announced. Criticizing his predecessor Barack Obama for a failed foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere, Le Pen predicted the current Trump administration would represent "almost a change of software that will not only be positive for the world, but positive for the United States."

Germany's Merkel targeted

But Le Pen spent a significant chunk of her discourse railing against the European Union with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as its biggest mascot.

"The conception of a failed Europe is carried by Mrs Merkel that defies understanding," she said of the German leader.

Le Pen said French policies on Syria had put France at greater risk of terrorism

If elected, Le Pen vows to renegotiate a new deal with the EU - and failing that, hold a "Frexit" referendum on leaving the bloc. Coupled with the Brexit referendum in the UK, the EU is feeling the brunt of the nationalist surge. In nearby Netherlands, far-right politician Geert Wilders also leads the polls ahead of March elections.

"The question for Germany is do you make this a kind of casus belli or deal with the cards you have?" asked analyst Lafont Rapnouil. "Just as Brexit was not what all EU members wanted, you have to get the best out of it for both sides, and not some kind of sterile tit-for-tat."

"It will be a very difficult and cold relationship," Moreau Defarges of IFRI says of diplomatic ties between mainstream European leaders and Le Pen. "Of course, Mrs. Merkel or Teresa May will receive Mrs Le Pen as head of state. But it will be a big European crisis - an earthquake - if she's elected."

New relationship with Africa

Le Pen also said she would overhaul relations with Africa, breaking from France's "moralizing discourse" towards its former colonies and instead focus on "non-interference, which doesn't mean indifference."

She called for development assistance, particularly focusing on agriculture, and for maintaining French military presence in countries like Mali, Chad and Cameroon which are all fighting militant Islam.

Yet that stance raises contradictions, Lafont-Rapnouil points out. France's African operations were realized in cooperation with the United Nations and with EU support - the very multilateral institutions that Le Pen rejects.

"How would that work," he asks, "if you have a National Front foreign policy which is not in favor of EU integration on defense - and which is not interested in the UN?"

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Le Pen blasts EU, NATO, praises Trump - Deutsche Welle

Exit by 80% of Polish Top Brass Guts Command on NATO Front Line … – Bloomberg

Polands conservative government has replaced almost all of its military leadership after hundreds of officers left, an exit that coincides with a call from Warsaws to its NATO allies for help boosting its defense.

With the government moving to rid institutions of officials appointed by the former ruling Civic Platform party, which it defeated in 2015 elections, 90 percent of the General Staff leadership and more than 80 percent of the armys top brass have gone, according to the Defense Ministry. They include Chief of Staff General Miroslaw Gocul, who stepped down last month and Army Commander General Miroslaw Rozanski.

The ruling Law & Justice Party has pledged to purge government of what its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has called the worst type of Poles -- people with ties to Civic Platform or the communists who ruled the country last century. It is also thinning out experienced soldiers who have served in wars alongside their allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Poland joined with other former eastern bloc states in 1999.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has conducted a widespread change at top positions in operating units, each time replacing officers selected by the Civic Platform with experienced officers trained in Iraq and Afghanistan and trained by NATO, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Among the departures are 26 generals and more than 250 colonels, about a quarter and a sixth of the armys total, TVN24 television reported. While media say the numbers are higher than compared with previous years, the ministry says the total size of the army increased to 106,000 in 2017 from 96,000 in 2015.

Probably part of the departures are natural, but theres also part thats forced, for example by transfer orders sending officers into reserves, retired Brigadier General Stanislaw Koziej, who was head of the National Security Bureau under the Civic Platform government from 2010 to 2015, said by phone. The worrying element is that some departures are at the highest level where the military command links with political leadership. This is a bad signal.

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The government in Warsaw is also pushing to bring more U.S. troops to Poland as it warns against what it says is an increasing security threat from an expansionist Russia and the war in Ukraine.

A soldier has no other means of protest besides taking off the uniform, Koziej said.

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Exit by 80% of Polish Top Brass Guts Command on NATO Front Line ... - Bloomberg