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NATO’s Arctic War Exercise Unites Climate Change and WWIII – The Real News Network

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Greg Wolpert: Its the Real News Network. Im Greg Wolpert in Baltimore. The US military is about to send 7,500 combat troops to Norway for exercise Cold Response 2020 where they will join thousands of allied NATO troops in the Finnmark district along the border to Russia to participate in war games that will take place in mid-March.

These maneuvers have been held every other year since 2006, but their increased size and importance are raising credible fears that NATO and the United States are preparing to use the Arctic as a battleground for a possible conflict with Russia. Why have these NATO games in such a Northern latitude been gaining in importance? US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo openly explained the rationale when he visited Finland in May of last year.

Mike Pompeo: The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13% of the worlds undiscovered oil, 30% of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore. And its centerpiece, the Arctic Ocean, is rapidly taking on new strategic significance. Offshore resources, which are helping the respective coastal states are the subject of renewed competition.

Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days. Arctic sea lanes could come before the could come to the 21st century Suez and Panama canals.

Under President Trump, were fortifying Americas security and diplomatic presence in the area. On the security side, partly in response to Russias destabilizing activities, we are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs inside of our own military.

Greg Wolpert: Pompeo also explained that in addition to the threat that Russia represents, so does China.

Joining me now to discuss the significance of NATOs exercise Cold Response are Michael Klare and [Erik Vold 00:02:20]. Michael is The Nations defense correspondent and professor emeritus of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College. His latest book is, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagons Perspective on Climate Change. Erik, who joins us from Oslo, is a Norwegian political analyst and author and is working as a foreign policy advisor to the parliamentary group of the leftist Red Party of Norway.

Thanks, Michael and Erik for joining us today. So lets start with the Arctic, why the Arctic has become of such great interest to the United States? We saw it earlier as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo already explained it pretty well in that clip. But January, once again, the month of January, beat all climate records as the warmest January in recorded history. Michael, talk about how climate change is driving this scramble for the Arctic.

Michael Klare: Well, at one point you couldnt go there. You couldnt go near there because it was covered with ice. The region was impenetrable. But because of climate change and the rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic, the ice cap is receding and thats making it possible to drill for oil and natural gas and other resources in the Arctic region. This has led to a scramble to extract those resources by giant energy firms from around the world. So this has made the region much more of importance from a geopolitical perspective.

Its especially true of Russia because Russia highly depends on the sale of oil and natural gas to prop up its economy. Something like 25% of its foreign income comes from the sale of oil and gas and at present most of that oil and natural gas that it sells to Europe and Asia comes from reserves below the Arctic Circle. But those are running out. So for Russia to continue to rely on oil and gas reserves to power its economy, it has to go above the Arctic Circle.

And so from Moscows perspective, the development of Arctic resources is absolutely crucial. This is something that President Vladimir Putin has said over and over again and has invested vast resources, economic inputs into developing the new oil and gas fields developed, discovered above the Arctic Circle in Russias territory.

But as well discuss, this creates problems for Russia because its very hard to deliver those new oil and gas reserves to the rest of the world because of the distance from markets. This has put a new emphasis on trade routes that pass by Northern Norway, which is where this exercise is being held.

Greg Wolpert: All right. Talk to us also about the US interest that is in the resources because you make an interesting point in one of your articles for The Nation where you point out also that even if we arent right away running out of natural resources in the Middle East, there is an issue that climate change in the Middle East is actually driving also whats happening in the Arctic. Explain that to us.

Michael Klare: Yes, indeed. If you look at the latest scientific literature on what we could expect from climate change in the future, the Middle East region, especially the Persian Gulf, which is where most of oil drilling is occurring at present, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and so on, those areas are going to become unbearably hot in summer months. You can expect, in decades to come, that summertime temperatures during the day are likely to average above 110 degrees Fahrenheit and very possibly above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Its almost impossible for humans to survive for very long in those temperatures.

A lot of equipment breaks down under those circumstances. So its very possible that itll become impossible to produce oil and gas in that region. That makes production in the Arctic much more attractive as those areas become impossible to operate in the Middle East. So the oil companies, American and British oil companies are increasingly looking towards the Arctic as a future source of production to ensure that they have adequate supplies.

Greg Wolpert: Erik, I want to turn to you now. Now, what has Norway done to facilitate the scramble for Arctic resources? I mean, Norway is usually seen as a peace loving country, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize after all. To what extent and why is Norway supporting US ambitions there via NATO?

Erik Vold: Well, Norway joined the NATO in 1949 and that was a very controversial decision. And because Norway is a country that is situated on the border with Russia, at that time the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union had just liberated a big chunk of Norwegian territory from Nazi occupation, so there was very little appetite in the Norwegian population to sort of antagonize the Russians by letting the US enter Norwegian territory with heavy military equipment. So we had this self-imposed restrictions on US military presence. For example, not permitting US military bases on Norwegian soil in peace time and not permitting the presence of US nukes on Norwegian territory.

Now, this policy, this very prudent policy that served us very well for about 70 years has been rolled back by this current government, which is more and more inclined to supporting the US and to supporting US militarization off the Arctic that is deemed to be threatening by the Russians. Now I can give you a very illustrative example.

In 2018, the Norwegian government introduced a proposal asking basically asking the parliament for a grant of about 1 billion kroners, about $1 million for satellite-based broadband connection in the Northern Norway. Now this was presented as a proposal to improve internet connection for business, for fishery, for maritime security, shipping and for the Norwegian defense. This grant was voted favorably, unanimously, by the parliament.

Now a couple of days later, it turned out that this grant was going to be used on something completely different. It turned out that these satellites were going to carry communication equipment for the US military directly connected to US nuclear armed submarines that were using the Arctic territories of Norwegian maritime territory getting close to Russia.

It also turned out that the reason why the Americans wanted to use civilian Norwegian satellites instead of US military satellites was because the US military considered that any satellites carrying communication equipment for nuclear, US nuclear capabilities would become possible targets for attacks from those countries that feel threatened by the presence of US nukes close to their borders. In this case, it would be Russia and China.

So what this goes to show is the way that the US is increasingly using Norwegian territory and Norwegian civilian infrastructure to move nuclear and conventional military, offensive military, capabilities closer and closer to the Russian border. And that the way that this is being done is through, to a large extent, through secrecy and deceptions, sometimes even undermining important principles of the Norwegian democracy.

Greg Wolpert: Michael, I want to get to that point that Erik is raising about increasing US military presence in Norway. Were not just talking about the NATO maneuvers that are happening in early March. So what has the US so far deployed there and what kinds of risks do these deployments represent?

Michael Klare: So step back for a minute. The US, over the past two years, has adopted a new military strategy. For the past 20 years or so, since 2001, since 9/11, the guiding strategy of the United States has been the global War on Terror. And thats led, of course to a focus on Iraq to Afghanistan and other countries where the US has been fighting the various ISIS and Al-Qaeda and so on.

Two years ago, the Department of Defense adopted a new national security strategy, which emphasizes what they call great power competition, meaning the rivalry between the US, Russia and China. And on this space is the US increasingly views Russia and China as its main adversary. In this shift in strategy emphasizes that while the US was focusing on the wars, the what we call the Forever Wars, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and so on, that Russia and China have built up their military capabilities and put NATO and the US at a disadvantage and that therefore, its essential that the US and NATO build up their capabilities again to deflect and to contain and push back Russian and then Chinese advances.

So now looking at Norway and Scandinavia, the US sees a big Russian build up in the Kola Peninsula. Thats the area that adjoins Norway in the far North, a huge buildup of Russian forces there. This is seen as a new or an expanded threat to NATO and to US forces in general because those forces that the Russians have deployed in Kola Peninsula, especially in Murmansk the big naval base there include nuclear forces. So in response, the US has undertaken a drive to beef up its forces in that region and that has included, as [inaudible 00:13:28] said earlier, the positioning of a permanent deployment of American forces that is, in this case, Marine deployments of several hundred Marines in North Central Norway.

But more importantly, under agreement with the Norwegian government, this is not well known in the United States at all, I dont even know if go regions know about it, the US has established large, large caves, I think in the area to the East of Trondheim in North Central Norway, which hold hundreds, thousands of tanks and artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers, ammunition, all the stocks you need to fight a major war. So there is an anticipation on the US side that we may have to fight a major war with Russia in the far North in the area adjoining the Kola Peninsula.

The exercise that were about to see, Cold Response 2020, US forces will fly to Norway and then go to those caves and extract all of those tanks that have been pre-positioned in Norway, move to the Northern part of Norway and engage in a mock war with Russia. So there is this, an assumption now in the Pentagon that Northern Norway will be a major battlefield in any war with Russia and in fact could be the starting place for World War III.

Greg Wolpert: Actually, Erik, this is exactly the next issue I want to touch on with you. I mean, just as Michael says, Norway would be in the middle of such a confrontation, whether its a nuclear or conventional. Now, whats been the reaction within Norway to this militarization?

Erik Vold: Thats true. I mean, Norway used to be a kind of a buffer zone between Russia or the USSR and the US. And through those Norwegian policies of limiting US presence in Northern Norway, that position was maintained until pretty recently because the current government has done a lot to tear down those limitations and basically scrap Norways role as a buffer, as a buffer zone.

So, while reactions are slow [inaudible 00:15:55]. I mean, defense policies, the whole security issue, big power competition, that issue has basically been marginalized since the end of the Cold War. The Norwegian people is slowly realizing the risks that this implies for Norway. I mean, we have enjoyed so many decades of peace and the risk of war has basically not been on the agenda.

But what we are seeing now is that by scrapping that prudent policy of maintaining a certain distance to the US even though being allies, by scrapping that policy, the risk of war is not being, is not reduced. Its increasing. Were seeing basically a security dilemma in which the increased military presence of the US in Norway makes Russia look at Norway with different eyes. I mean, well, the Russians never feared Norway, a small country of five million inhabitants with whom theyve maintained peace for almost a thousand years.

When US nuclear capabilities are connected to Norwegian civilian infrastructure, and when Norwegian territory is used to build up US military presence, then Russian guns are slowly being to more of an extent being pointed towards Norway because what the Russians do fear is that Norwegian territory is being used for aggressive purposes by the US against Russia. And so that increases the risk of Norway being drawn into this big power rivalry between Russia and the US.

It also increases the risks for the Russians. So theyre increasing their military spending. And unfortunately, this is also something that might stimulate increase defense spending in the US because to the extent that the US engages in Norway, probably in the case and increasing the risk of a conflict. Maybe the most probable scenario is a conflict arising from a misunderstanding when so much heavy military power is concentrated on such a small area. Thats the way it can happen.

So in case of a misunderstanding in which the Russians fear a US attack, they go to, they take some kind of preliminary action to protect their military capabilities in the Kola Peninsula. Then the U S will feel much more obliged to interfere, to intervene in order to maintain their credibility as a security guarantor towards other NATO States. So it also increases the risk of the US being drawn into a conflict unnecessarily based on a misunderstanding. So, what were going to see is three nations, everyone spending more on defense and getting less security in return from it.

Greg Wolpert: Michael, I was just wondering if you could add to that? I mean this was one of your points in your Nation article as well, that this could be the main area for World War III and why is that? I mean, what is it, why is Russia building up so much? After all, theyve got access to the entire, more access to the Arctic than any other country in the world, so why is it such a hotspot?

Michael Klare: Well, this partly is a matter of geography and I hope that you can put a map of this area to highlight this fact. That is to say that although Russia has a number of ports, the port at Murmansk is the only one that offers Russian submarines open access to the Atlantic Ocean and to the other oceans of the world. They cant on the Atlantic side. They also have ports on the Pacific.

One needs a minute to understand something about nuclear strategy. Russia relies on its nuclear submarines, nuclear missile armed submarines, as its secure deterrent to a US first strike. If the US were to strike first and destroy all Russian missile silos, they count on their submarines submerged as a final deterrent to such a strike because theyre supposedly more secure from detection and attack, but they have to get out into the water. Murmansk is therefore essential to them for that reason.

Hence, the United States, as it increasingly sees it, sees the possibility of a nuclear war with Russia sees that area where the submarines would exit from Murmansk to go out into the ocean as a crucial future nuclear war zone. Hence, the US has established with Norway a radar base at the very far North of Norway and Finnmark just 45 miles from the border with Russia and to track Russian submarines. This means in the event of a clash that had a nuclear potential, Northern Norway would be an immediate nuclear target for Russia. So you could see how this area is being caught up in the nuclear planning scenarios of both sides.

Its important to understand in this discussion that as we are shifting to this great power competition that weve been discussing, the US and I think the other great powers are also moving away from the strategy of mutual assured destruction, MAD as it was called, M-A-D, which said that any nuclear war would be so catastrophic that we are not even going to think about a first strike. Were only going to retain a secure second strike and not even think about nuclear war, but thats changing.

The US and Russia and China, it appears, are thinking more and more about the possibility of fighting and winning a nuclear war. I think this is utterly insane and immoral, highly immoral, but that is the case. And so nuclear battlefields are emerging places where nuclear strikes might occur. This area of Northern Norway and Murmansk would be at the very top of the list of possible targets in the event of a nuclear war. I could say more about this, but this is a matter of geography and you have to see Murmansk adjoining Northern Norway as a prime battlefield in any outset of a nuclear war.

Greg Wolpert: Well, I think its also important to reflect on how these two kind of apocalyptic scenarios, that is of climate change and of nuclear war, are coming together in this particular issue. Its really quite something. But were going to leave it there for now. Well certainly continue to follow this as we usually do.

I was speaking to Michael Klare, The Nations defense correspondent and professor emeritus of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College and Erik Vold, foreign policy advisor for the parliamentary group of the Red Party of Norway. Thanks again, Michael and Erik for having joined us today.

Michael Klare: Thank you.

Erik Vold: Thank you.

Greg Wolpert: And thank you for joining the Real News Network.

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NATO's Arctic War Exercise Unites Climate Change and WWIII - The Real News Network

The threat of a nuclear war between the US and Russia is now at its greatest since 1983 – RT

When the Commander of NATO says he is a fan of flexible first strike at the same time that NATO is flexing its military muscle on Russias border, the risk of inadvertent nuclear war is real.

US Air Force Gen. Tod D Wolters told the Senate this week he is a fan of flexible first strike regarding NATOs nuclear weapons, thereby exposing the fatal fallacy of the alliances embrace of American nuclear deterrence policy.

It was one of the most remarkable yet underreported exchanges in recent Senate history. Earlier this week, during the testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee of General Tod Wolters, the commander of US European Command and, concurrently, as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) also the military head of all NATO armed forces, General Wolters engaged in a short yet informative exchange with Senator Deb Fischer, a Republican from the state of Nebraska.

Following some initial questions and answers focused on the alignment of NATOs military strategy with the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the US, which codified what Wolters called the malign influence on behalf of Russia toward European security, Senator Fischer asked about the growing recognition on the part of NATO of the important role of US nuclear deterrence in keeping the peace. We all understand that our deterrent, the TRIAD, is the bedrock of the security of this country, Fischer noted. Can you tell us about what you are hearingfrom our NATO partners about this deterrent?

Wolters responded by linking the deterrence provided to Europe by the US nuclear TRIAD with the peace enjoyed on the European continent over the past seven decades. Fischer asked if the US nuclear umbrella was vital in the freedom of NATO members; Wolters agreed. Remarkably, Wolters linked the role of nuclear deterrence with the NATO missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere outside the European continent. NATOs mission, he said, was to proliferate deterrence to the max extent practical to achieve greater peace.

Then came the piece de resistance of the hearing. What are your views, Sir, Senator Fischer asked, of adopting a so-called no-first-use policy. Do you believe that that would strengthen deterrence?

General Wolters response was straight to the point. Senator, Im a fan of flexible first use policy.

Under any circumstance, the public embrace of a flexible first strike policy regarding nuclear weapons employment by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe should generate widespread attention. When seen in the context of the recent deployment by the US of a low-yield nuclear warhead on submarine-launched ballistic missiles carried onboard a Trident submarine, however, Wolters statement is downright explosive. Add to the mix the fact the US recently carried out a wargame where the US Secretary of Defense practiced the procedures for launching this very same low yield weapon against a Russian target during simulated combat between Russia and NATO in Europe, and the reaction should be off the charts. And yet there has been deafening silence from both the European and US press on this topic.

There is, however, one party that paid attention to what General Wolters had to sayRussia. In a statement to the press on February 25the same date as General Wolters testimony, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister stated that We note with concern that Washingtons new doctrinal guidelines considerably lower the threshold of nuclear weapons use. Lavrov added that this doctrine had to be viewed in the light of the persistent deployment of US nuclear weapons on the territory of some NATO allies and the continued practice of the so-called joint nuclear missions.

Rather than embracing a policy of flexible first strike, Lavrov suggested that the US work with Russia to re-confirm the Gorbachev-Reagan formula, which says that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be unleashed. This proposal was made 18 months ago, Lavrov noted, and yet the US has failed to respond.

Complicating matters further are the Defender 2020 NATO military exercises underway in Europe, involving tens of thousands of US troops in one of the largest training operations since the end of the Cold War. The fact that these exercises are taking place at a time when the issue of US nuclear weapons and NATOs doctrine regarding their employment against Russia is being actively tracked by senior Russian authorities only highlights the danger posed.

On February 6, General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Chief of Staff, met with General Wolters to discuss Defender 2020 and concurrent Russian military exercises to be held nearby to deconflict their respective operations and avoid any unforeseen incidents. This meeting, however, was held prior to the reports about a US/NATO nuclear wargame targeting Russian forces going public, and prior to General Wolters statement about flexible first use of NATO nuclear weapons.

In light of these events, General Gerasimov met with French General Fanois Lecointre, the Chief of the Defense Staff, to express Russias concerns over NATOs military moves near the Russian border, especially the Defender 2020 exercise which was, General Gerasimov noted, held on the basis of anti-Russian scenarios and envisage training for offensive operations.

General Gerasimovs concerns cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather must be considered in the overall historical context of NATO-Russian relations. Back in 1983, the then-Soviet Union was extremely concerned about a series of realistic NATO exercises, known as Able Archer 83, which in many ways mimicked the modern-day Defender 2020 in both scope and scale. Like Defender 2020, Able Archer 83 saw the deployment of tens of thousands of US forces into Europe, where they assumed an offensive posture, before transitioning into a command post exercise involving the employment of NATO nuclear weapons against a Soviet target.

So concerned was Moscow about these exercises, and the possibility that NATO might use them as a cover for an attack against Soviet forces in East Germany, that the Soviet nuclear forces were placed on high alert. Historians have since observed that the threat of nuclear war between the US and the USSR was at that time the highest it had been since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

US and NATO officials would do well to recall the danger to European and world security posed by the Able Archer 83 exercise and the potential for Soviet miscalculations when assessing the concerns expressed by General Gerasimov today. The unprecedented concentration of offensive NATO military power on Russias border, coupled with the cavalier public embrace by General Wolters of a flexible first strike nuclear posture by NATO, has more than replicated the threat model presented by Able Archer 83. In this context, it would not be a stretch to conclude that the threat of nuclear war between the US and Russia is the highest it has been since Able Archer 83.

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The threat of a nuclear war between the US and Russia is now at its greatest since 1983 - RT

NATO – NATO Vacancies

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AllAuditBuilding & Facility ManagementConference ManagementDefenceEngineeringExecutive ManagementGraduateInformation & Document ManagementInformation Communication TechnologyInternLinguistic ServicesManagement and Operations SupportOperationsPolitical AffairsPublic RelationsResearchSecurityAll

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AllAfghanistanAfghanistan (RS)AustriaBelgiumBosnia and HerzegovinaDenmarkFranceGeorgiaGermanyGreeceHungaryIraqIraq (NMI)ItalyKazakhstanKosovoKuwaitLuxembourgNetherlandsNorwayPolandPortugalRussiaSpainTurkeyUkraineUnited KingdomUnited States of AmericaUzbekistanAll

AllAfghanistanAfghanistan (RS)AustriaBelgiumBosnia and HerzegovinaDenmarkFranceGeorgiaGermanyGreeceHungaryIraqIraq (NMI)ItalyKazakhstanKosovoKuwaitLuxembourgNetherlandsNorwayPolandPortugalRussiaSpainTurkeyUkraineUnited KingdomUnited States of AmericaUzbekistanAll

AllAllied Command TransformationCentre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE)Collaboration Support Office (CSO)Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander TransformationHQ AIRCOMHQ MARCOMHQ NAEW & C Force GeilenkirchenHQ SarajevoInternational Military StaffJoint Analysis and Lessons Learned CentreJoint Force Command Brunssum NLDJoint Force Command NaplesJoint Force Training CentreJoint Warfare CentreLand Command HQNAGSMANATO CIS GroupNATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency)NATO Defense CollegeNATO International Staff (NATO IS)NATO Mission in IraqNATO STANDARDIZATION OFFICEResolute SupportSCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ORGANIZATION (STO)Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

AllAllied Command TransformationCentre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE)Collaboration Support Office (CSO)Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander TransformationHQ AIRCOMHQ MARCOMHQ NAEW & C Force GeilenkirchenHQ SarajevoInternational Military StaffJoint Analysis and Lessons Learned CentreJoint Force Command Brunssum NLDJoint Force Command NaplesJoint Force Training CentreJoint Warfare CentreLand Command HQNAGSMANATO CIS GroupNATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency)NATO Defense CollegeNATO International Staff (NATO IS)NATO Mission in IraqNATO STANDARDIZATION OFFICEResolute SupportSCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ORGANIZATION (STO)Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

AllAllied Command TransformationCentre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE)Collaboration Support Office (CSO)Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander TransformationHQ AIRCOMHQ MARCOMHQ NAEW & C Force GeilenkirchenHQ SarajevoInternational Military StaffJoint Analysis and Lessons Learned CentreJoint Force Command Brunssum NLDJoint Force Command NaplesJoint Force Training CentreJoint Warfare CentreLand Command HQNAGSMANATO CIS GroupNATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency)NATO Defense CollegeNATO International Staff (NATO IS)NATO Mission in IraqNATO STANDARDIZATION OFFICEResolute SupportSCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ORGANIZATION (STO)Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

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Iraq: Washington to strengthen presence of NATO to disengage militarily from Baghdad – Middle East Monitor

The approval of the US allies to strengthen the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) mission in Iraq, indicates Washingtons intention to disengage militarily from Baghdad. However, those allies have asked the US administration to maintain its military engagement in the region to combat Daesh.

A European diplomat stated that: The transfer of responsibilities to NATO has always been a precursor to the US military disengagement, citing two examples: the Kosovo Force(KFOR) and the ResoluteSupport Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan.

The diplomat stressed that: This will only work if the NATO mission includes a strong US component. The US troops currently account for half of the 16,000 soldiers affiliated with the RSM.

He indicated that the US request to hand some training activities designated to the Iraqi forces, over to NATO on behalf of the international coalitionto defeat Daesh, falls within this context.

US president, Donald Trump, announced his intention to reduce his countrys military presence worldwide and withdraw from many areas of operations, especially in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, to focus his efforts on Asia, in the context of confronting China.

However, the situation changed with the escalation of tension with Iran, as the US attempted to deploy more troops and sent aircrafts to the Gulf region.

Read: NATO willing to expand Iraqi training mission to meet Trump demand

In the wake of the death of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, in early January in a US raid near Baghdad, anger against the US in Iraq escalated, forcing Washington to suspend the operations of the international coalition and seek to limit its presence there.

The solution to achieve this was to strengthen the role of the small NATO mission deployed in Iraq since 2018.

During their meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels, the defence ministers of the NATO countries approved the transfer of some coalition activities to the NATO mission, with the mission being strengthened by troops from the alliances member states.

After the Iraqi government agreed on Wednesday night to transfer some training activities to NATO, the mission is expected to be strengthened rapidly.

NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, announced on Thursday that the number of troops to be transferred from the coalition to the NATO force, and the details of training activities to be resumed by the mission, will be discussed during a meeting of the international coalition on Friday in Munich, on the sidelines of the security conference.

On Thursday, Spain confirmed to NATO the transfer of a portion of its units to the NATO mission. However, Spanish defence minister, Margarita Robles, confirmed that: It is out of the question to take over combat activities.

Read: US forces to start withdrawing from 15 bases in Iraq

Stoltenberg stated repeatedly that NATO must train the Iraqi forces to be able to fight Daesh and prevent it from reorganising its ranks, intensifying its activities in Iraq.

The US troops will remain in Iraq to fight Daesh. However, Washington is determined to continue strengthening NATOs presence in Iraq, while transferring defensive missions to it, and asking other allies to assume more responsibilities, allowing them to disengage militarily from Iraq, US defence secretary, Mark Esper, explained during the meeting in Brussels.

French defence minister, Florence Barley, warned of the US approach during a visit to Washington at the end of January, stating that Trumps NATO-Middle East policy should not turn into a NATO without the US policy. She also expressed the same concerns during the NATO meeting.

German defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, was more frank while discussing the situation, stressing that it was out of the question for Germany to increase participation to replace US forces in Iraq.

Read: Iraq parliament passes resolution to expel US troops

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Iraq: Washington to strengthen presence of NATO to disengage militarily from Baghdad - Middle East Monitor

US needs Europe to tackle the rise of China, NATO chief says – CNBC

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNBC that if the U.S. is concerned about the rise of China then it was "even more important to maintain NATO to keep your friends and allies close."

The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was responding to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper's speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, in which he called China a rising threat to the world order.

Stoltenberg acknowledged that the global balance of power was shifting with the rise of China, pointing out that it now has the second-largest defense budget in the world and that it's "investing heavily in new military capabilities."

The alliance put the issue of China on its agenda for the very first time at an event in London in December. At the time, Stoltenberg told CNBC that the rise of the Asian powerhouse provided some "obvious opportunities but also some obvious challenges."

In March 2019, China set its 2019 defense spending 7.5% higher than a year ago, raising it to 1.19 trillion yuan ($177.61 billion), according to known figures (some believe the actual figure could be higher). This still lags behind U.S. spending, however, with its Defense Department having asked Congress for $718 billion in its fiscal 2020 budget.

Stoltenberg said Saturday that the "important message" for the U.S. was that if it was concerned about China then it needed its allies. "Together with Europe and Canada we represent 50% of the world's military might and 50% of the world economy. Together we are strong," he told CNBC's Hadley Gamble.

Jens Stoltenberg, 13th Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is talks to the media at the NATO headquarter on February 11, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.

Thierry Monasse/ Getty Images

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg suggested he was not concerned by recent data showing weaker economic growth in Germany and the possible impact that would have on its defense spending as part of NATO. He said Germany had already started to increase its defense spending and that it planned to increase this by 80% over a decade.

The secretary general said that European allies and Canada will add $400 billion to their defense spending by 2024. "When it comes to defense spending, we're already moving in the right direction," he added.

On the Middle East, the NATO chief said the alliance would look to reduce its troops in Afghanistan, from the 16,000 currently based in the country, "if Taliban believers are ready to reduce the violence."

He said that the only way to create lasting peace in Afghanistan was to talk to the Taliban and that the purpose of truce talks currently taking place was also to "initiate inter-Afghan negotiations."

Stoltenberg said NATO's role was to support Afghans to take ownership of the peace process, "sending a message to the Taliban that they will never win on the battlefield, they have to sit at the negotiating table and (make) real compromises and reduce violence."

CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.

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US needs Europe to tackle the rise of China, NATO chief says - CNBC

In a small Polish village near a Russian exclave, US-led NATO battle group is ready ‘in case anything happens’ – Stars and Stripes

BEMOWO PISKIE, Poland When American troops first deployed to northeast Poland in 2017 to lead a NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group, the population of the village of Bemowo Piskie grew by a third overnight.

Nearly three years later, locals have grown used to the military presence and the occasional columns of tanks that pass through the village. Some say having the Americans in the village, which lies just south of the strategic Suwalki Corridor a border area between Poland and Lithuania that is sandwiched between Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad makes them feel safer. Others just like having them in town.

American soldiers in Bemowo Piskie enjoy being here and we like having them, said Kate, a villager who didnt want to give her last name.

The U.S.-led battle group is one of four on NATOs eastern flank aimed at deterring Russian aggression in Europe. The other three are in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of which were annexed by the Soviet Union immediately after World War II, only regaining their freedom in 1991 when the USSR crumbled.

Russia often breaches the air space of the three Baltic states, has conducted crippling cyberattacks against them, and in 2014 was accused by the Estonians of abducting a security official at the border.

A 2018 report co-authored by former U.S. Army Europe commander retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges called the Suwalki Corridor, about 60 miles northeast of Bemowo Piskie, some of the most important territory within NATOs borders.

It is NATOs physical link between the Baltic littoral to the north and the European plain to the south. If this Corridor is not fully secured, NATOs credibility as a security guarantor to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia could be seriously undermined, the report said.

Having American and other NATO troops in Bemowo Piskie is seen as a deterrent to Russian aggression because, under NATOs founding principles, an attack on the battle group would be seen as an attack on the entire alliance. But with around 15,000 Russian troops based in Kaliningrad, just 65 miles north of Bemowo Piskie, the U.S.-led battle group, which with Polish, Croatian, Romanian and British forces totals about 1,200 troops, would be sorely outnumbered in an attack.

The troops know their job would be to hold off any attackers until NATO could strike back on a much larger scale.

We have a training plan in case anything happens, said Capt. Ian Staley, Lightning Troop commander for 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. We dont feel that being this close [to Russia] is an issue. It is an opportunity for us to be in Bemowo Piskie in case anything happens.

American troops cycle through Bemowo Piskie in six-month rotations, living in barracks inside the fenced-off training area of around 42,000 acres, where they regularly participate in exercises with forces from other NATO member states.

Earlier this month, the battle group took part in kill tank, an exercise designed to teach soldiers about the functions and capabilities of weapons systems, Staley said. In July last year, Bemowo Piskie was host to the first Interoperability Games, testing how well allied troops can use each others equipment and vehicles.

Other than the language barrier and a 10 p.m. curfew, the American troops are free to take advantage of the villages amenities two small grocery stores and two restaurants.

The soldiers enjoy going out in town and out at night, even though it is a small town, Kate, said.

Some of the Americans came to Poland with apprehensions not because of how close theyd be to Russia but because theyd heard stories about the long, cold winters and how small and isolated Bemowo Piskie is.

I heard a lot of horror stories, but its not as bad as I thought it would be, said Spc. Kyle Bercsik, who arrived in January with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, out of Vilseck, Germany.

There are soccer and basketball teams, and Bercsik attends Polish lessons with a few other soldiers, he said.

It puts the stress away for a couple of hours.

Johnson.Immanuel@stripes.comTwitter: @Manny_Stripes

A U.S. soldier from 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, prepares to fire an M3 Carl Gustaf 84mm recoilless rifle, during an anti-tank training course in Bemowo Piskie, Poland, Jan. 31, 2020. TIMOTHY HAMLIN/U.S. ARMY

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In a small Polish village near a Russian exclave, US-led NATO battle group is ready 'in case anything happens' - Stars and Stripes

Russia’s MFA Lavrov: NATO "has nothing to do with Ukraine," shouldn’t interfere in Donbas talks – UNIAN

He says NATO "could only worsen" the Ukrainian issue.

Sergei Lavrov / REUTERS

"When they [at NATO] say that they are ready for dialogue with Russia, they are not completely true they are open for dialogue that they understand as advancing claims against us, primarily regarding Ukraine," Lavrov said after the 2020 Munich Security Conference, according to an UNIAN correspondent in the Russian Federation.

Read alsoRussia names condition for holding Normandy Four summit

According to him, the Russia-NATO Council has never gathered "without an attempted ultimatum to force us to consider Ukrainian problems in this format."

"Our response is and I mentioned this [to NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg when we met in Munich that NATO has nothing to do with Ukraine. We have dialogue with those Western countries that are in charge of the Ukrainian settlement primarily participants of the Normandy format France and Germany," he said.

"And as Americans also joined these Ukrainian negotiations from time to time, at least in the last couple of years, we're still in contact with them but NATO as it is they have nothing to do with the Ukrainian issue. They could only worsen it, deepen the problems by keeping on saying that NATO is looking forward to having Ukraine joining them. That's undermining the efforts to implement the Minsk agreements," he said.

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Russia's MFA Lavrov: NATO "has nothing to do with Ukraine," shouldn't interfere in Donbas talks - UNIAN

North Macedonia ratifies NATO accession protocol, but still waiting for Spain – EURACTIV

North Macedonias parliament unanimously ratified NATOs accession protocol on Tuesday (11 February), taking Skopje a step closer to becoming the military alliances 30th member in the coming weeks.

By joining this alliance, we are not simply joining an international organisation, North Macedonias President Stevo Pendarovski told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

Membership of the worlds most powerful military-political alliance is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility, Pendarovski added and described the vote as a major step in completing Macedonian statehood and a (guarantee) for our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

All 114 lawmakers present in the 120-seat parliament voted in favour, with none against or abstaining.

In the presence of NATO representatives, diplomats, and officials from some neighbouring countries, a NATO flag was raised in front of the parliament building in Skopje.

The vote was a rare moment of unity after months of political upheaval and took place several weeks ahead of schedule as the current parliament is set to dissolve at the end of the week.

Skopjes Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed in October to hold early elections on 12 April, after EU leaders failed to agree on opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, mostly because of opposition from France. He later stepped down to pave the way for early elections.

Zaevs government was the driving force behind the countrys progress towards the West as in recent years it poured all of its political capital into efforts to put North Macedonia on a path to NATO and EU membership.

While being supportive of NATO membership, France, the Netherlands and Denmark have been reluctant to green-light the accession negotiations with the EU.

Without the prospect of joining NATO, the North Macedonia name change deal with Greece (Prespa Agreement) would have been dead because the EU side has not been delivering on its promises, North Macedonias deputy PM and defence minister, Radmila ekerinska, told EURACTIV earlier last year.

Without the prospect of joining NATO, the North Macedonia name change deal with Greece (Prespa Agreement) would have been dead because the EU side has not been delivering on its promises, North Macedonian deputy PM and defence minister, Radmila ekerinska, has said.

In 2019, the two Balkan neighbours ended a 27-year-old name dispute, lifting Athens veto on North Macedonias way toward the EU and NATO. North Macedonia has been an EU candidate since 2005.

At the Bucharest NATO summit in April 2008, Greece vetoed its neighbours bid to join the alliance because of the name dispute.

In a symbolic move, last year Greece was the first country to ratify North Macedonias accession to the western military alliance.

Whats happening with Spain?

All NATO members have ratified North Macedonias accession except Spain, even though the document was forwarded to the Spanish Parliament for signature already in June 2019.

Asked by EURACTIV what the obstacles are and what the expected timeline for ratification is, a Spanish MFA spokesman replied:

There had been no other obstacles to the ratification except for the parliamentary agenda, which has been on constant stand-by due to repeated elections and the text has just been sent to the newly composed parliament.

It is expected to be completed as soon as possible through a special urgent procedure but at the end of the day, it depends on both Houses legislative agenda, the MFA spokesman added.

According to Spanish sources, the parliament is expected to hold a ratification vote in March.

If everything goes according to plan concerning the political process, that process should finish around 10 March. There will remain some technical details that our parliament in Skopje will have to deal with, President Pendarovski told reporters during a visit to NATO member Poland.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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North Macedonia ratifies NATO accession protocol, but still waiting for Spain - EURACTIV

North Macedonia Is Being Used by NATO To Target Serbia and Russia – Antiwar.com

The North Macedonian House of Representatives unanimously approved on Monday for their country to acceptthe NATO Accession Protocol, taking the former Yugoslav Republic a step closer towards accession into NATO which is expected to be completed and finalized in the spring. North Macedonias rapid accession into NATO is only possible because of the Prespa Agreement signed between Athens and Skopje in June 2018, bringing an end to the name dispute between the two countries that emerged in 1991 with the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The Prespa Agreement, named after a lake that traverses the borders of Greece, North Macedonia and Albania, defined exactly what was meant by "Macedonia" and "Macedonian." For Greece, according to the agreement, these terms denote an area and people of Greeces northern region, who continue the legacy of the Ancient Macedonian Hellenic civilization, history and culture, as well as the legacy of Alexander the Great. In reference to North Macedonia, these terms denote the modern territory of North Macedonia, the Slavic language and Slavic people with their own history and culture unrelated to the Ancient Macedonians. The agreement also stipulates the removal of North Macedonian irredentist efforts against Greek territory and to align them with UNESCO and Council of Europes standards.

With Greece no longer blocking North Macedonias attempts to join NATO and the European Union, no time has been wasted to elevate the Balkan country into the Atlanticist organization. There is no doubt that thePrespa Agreement, which caused political turmoil in Athens and Skopje,was signed only for North Macedonias rapid entry into NATO.

The acceleration of North Macedonia into NATO is not only a key priority for the organization to reduce Russian influence in the Balkans, but to continue pressurizing Serbia that was bombed by NATO in 1999 in response to the Serbian military operation against the "Kosovo Liberation Army" terrorist organization. North Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia are the only non-NATO members remaining in the Balkans, however it is important to remember that Bosnia is effectively a U.S. protectorate, while North Macedonia has been trying to join NATO since 1995 when Yugoslavia was completely destroyed in all but name. Serbia has no such ambition to join NATO and is considered a problematic country as it is the only remaining bastion of Russian influence left in the Balkans and is preventing full Atlanticist hegemony over the region.

Syriza, the ruling Party of Greece at the time of the signing of the Prespa Agreement, knew full well that the Prespa Agreement was largely despised by the Greeks, but none-the-less pushed for it and signed it. It is very obvious that the Prespa Agreement was to accelerate North Macedonia primarily into NATO, especially as not only Syriza, but also the current ruling party of New Democracy is loyal to NATO, with North Macedonias entry into the EU being only a consolation prize for Western powers. Less than a month after signing the Prespa Agreement, North Macedonia received an invitation to join NATO on 11 July 2018 with the accession protocol made in February 2019. North Macedonias accession into the EU on the other hand has made no progress since the Prespa Agreement was made.

For the Atlanticists, a rapid accession into NATO to contain and weaken Russian influence in North Macedonia and to also further constrain and pressurize Serbia was a higher priority than formalizing the Balkan country into the European neoliberal order as an official member. Although North Macedonia will undoubtedly join the EU eventually, it is not a matter of urgency as making the country into a NATO member. The Prespa Agreement is highly unpopular in both countries as they both feel they have lost out and did not achieve their objectives of promoting their interests with the name issue. NATO was unwilling to risk the Prespa Agreement failing and the name issue re-emerging which would once again put on hold North Macedonias accession into the organization.

North Macedonia cannot contribute to NATO in any meaningful way as it is a poor country of just over two million people and not close to the Russian border like the tiny Baltic states. Its accession into NATO is only for the purpose of weakening or preventing any Russian influence in the country and to further isolate Serbia. Despite North Macedonia being an overwhelmingly Orthodox and Slavic country that had the potential to become another pro-Russia state in the Balkans alongside neighboring Serbia, since its separation from Yugoslavia in 1991, Skopje pursued a pro-Western policy and joined the NATO program Partnership for Peace as early as 1995 and became a European Union candidate a decade later. Why North Macedonia has pursued such a Western-centric policy since its separation with Yugoslavia is not clearly understood, but it is certainly understood why NATO has accelerated North Macedonias membership into its organization.

Paul Antonopoulos is a research fellow at the Center for Syncretic Studies.

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North Macedonia Is Being Used by NATO To Target Serbia and Russia - Antiwar.com

Greece wants NATO to halt migration influx from Turkey – Greek City Times

Greeces Defence Minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos on Thursday called for a greater presence of NATO in the Aegean, during the two-day meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels that occurred on the 12-13th February.

Panagiotopoulos wanted to see the strengthening of NATOs presence in the Aegean so as to halt, as he said, the migration influx from Turkey.

During the two-day session, NATO member Defence Ministers focused on developments in the strategic environment of the greater Middle East, including North Africa, the security situation in Afghanistan, the further development of EU-NATO relations and the Alliances operational issues.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Panagiotopoulos met with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, with whom he exchanged views on how the two countries military delegations could help reduce tension in bilateral relations at talks on the confidence-building measures scheduled to start in Athens on Monday.

The Greek Minister said he made it clear that in order for the military dialogue to succeed, provocative actions that undermine any effort to build confidence must be avoided.

Panagiotopoulos also met with counterparts from Estonia, Yuri Luik; Portugal, Joao Gomes Cravinho; and North Macedonia, Radmila Shekerinska.

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Greece wants NATO to halt migration influx from Turkey - Greek City Times

Unique Russian Tu-134 UBL (NATO Reporting Name Crusty-B) Nicknamed Black Pearl Intercepted Over The Baltic – The Aviationist

Top: the IR image of the Tu-134UB-L intercepted by the BAF. Below, a shot of the Tu-134UB-L RF-12041 nicknamed "Black Pearl". (Image credit: BAF)

Four Belgian Air Force F-16AM jets are deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, to support NATO BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission in the Baltic region since September. As part of their mission to safeguard the airspaces over Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and the Baltic Sea, the Belgian Vipers (just like the fighters of all the other air forces which support the BAP mission with rotational deployments to the Baltic States) are regularly scrambled to intercept Russian/non-NATO aircraft that fly in international airspace near NATO airspace.

While Il-76s, Su-27s and other interesting zombies are often escorted over the Baltic, the Russian Navy Tu-134 UB-L, RF-12041 nicknamed Black Pearl, that the BAF F-16s intercepted last week is a real first. The Belgian Air Force shared an IR image (most probably taken by the F-16s SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pod used in air-to-air mode for long range identification) of the rare bird, along with a file photo of the same aircraft taking off in 2019:

The Tu-134UB-L, NATO reporting name Crusty-B, is a variant of the civilian Tu-134B aircraft designed to train Tu-160 and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers aircrews (in particular, the Tu-134 was chosen because of the thrust to weight ratio and landing/takeoff characteristics were similar to those of the Tu-22M). The Tu-134UB-L (Uchebno-Boyevoy dla Lyotchikov, Russian for combat trainer for pilots) is indeed a Tu-134B airframe with a Tu-22 nose. According to Russias Warplanes Vol. 2 by Piotr Butowski, a total 109 Tu-134UB-L were built, with the first one making its maiden flight in March 1981.

Noteworthy, according to some sources, the Black Pearl is no longer used as a trainer, but was converted to be used for transportation tasks in 2017.

Whatever its current mission is the Tu-134UB-L RF-12041 is an extremely interesting and rare aircraft. Lets just hope the BAF will release more images of this beauty!!

H/T @ryankakiuchan for the heads-up

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Unique Russian Tu-134 UBL (NATO Reporting Name Crusty-B) Nicknamed Black Pearl Intercepted Over The Baltic - The Aviationist

The Long-Term Costs of NATO Expansion – The National Interest Online

"An alliance is like a chain. It is not made stronger by adding weak links to it." Walter Lippmann, Today and Tomorrow column, August 5, 1952

"An alliance is effective only to the extent that it reflects a common purpose and that it represents an accretion of strength to its members." Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy

"Alliances are worthwhile when they put into words a real community of interests; otherwise they lead only to confusion and disaster." A.J.P. Taylor, Origins of the Second World War

The apogee of nuclear arms control occurred between 1986 and 1996. In 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to on-site inspections for conventional military exercises in Europe and the Reykjavik Summit happened. Both broke the dam holding back nuclear treaties. Ten years later, in 1996, President Bill Clinton oversaw the completion of negotiations on a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. In between, there were conventional and nuclear arms reduction treaties, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the indefinite extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty, and much more.

After this golden decade, we've headed downhill. Conventional and nuclear arms control compacts have unraveled. When did the conditions for this downhill slide fall into place, and what were the key contributors?

The Great Unraveling seemed to begin during the first Clinton administrationit just wasnt apparent at that time. Planted amidst the Clinton administrations success stories during its first term were the seeds that led to the demise of conventional and nuclear arms control. The most prominent markers on this downhill path were the Clinton administrations commitment in principle to expand NATO, aerial bombardment to stop Serbian aggression after the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the insistent pursuit by Republicans on Capitol Hill, codified in public law, for a national missile defense.

This seemed to be an essential step toward stopping Slobodan Miloevis war crimes. Unfortunately, it damaged U.S.-Moscow relations but that was just the necessary cost of humanitarian intervention. (There were also unnecessary costs to U.S.-China relations after the mistaken bombing of Beijings embassy, but thats another story.) It is unlikely that the Balkan Wars ensured the downturn of U.S.-Russian relations. That may have begin with NATO expansion and the death of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

There were, of course, moral and ethical reasons to expand NATO's protective umbrella to states that yearned for freedom after the Soviet Union's dissolution. And if those reasons allowed for easy gains when Russia was in dire straits, then they would also be valid when Russia's fortunes revived, as NATO membership could serve as a deterrent to being overrun.

Advocates of NATO expansion didn't make that argument. To the contrary, they offered assurance that an era of confrontation had been replaced by an era of partnership, so no worries. Critics of NATO expansion were the worried ones. They argued that expansion invited clashes of interest with a stronger Russia while overextending U.S. military commitments.

In some cases, critics offered the stronger arguments. And to some extent, expanding NATO was a strategic mistake, one that may likely result in a weaker alliance, both militarily and politically. The Partnership for Peace concept of cooperation short of alliance was a sounder idea but wasn't politically sustainable.

The sentiments expressed by Lippmann, Kissinger and Taylor in the quotes listed above appear accurate in this light. It is unwise to expand military alliances with states that do not add appreciable military power and that are not defensible by conventional means. Also, it is unwise to expand a military alliance for the purpose of advancing democratic norms when a political-military alliance cannot defend itself against political backsliding. NATO now hasauthoritarian leaders within its ranks as Turkey, Hungary and Poland weaken the alliance from within.

Addition compounds weakness. NATO now has twenty-nine members, all of whom enjoy the core Article Five obligation of collective defense. Montenegro, the newest member, maintains an active duty force of twenty-four hundred soldiers.

The Clinton administration was under great pressure to expand NATO. One advocate was Henry Kissinger, whose view changed: he was wary of NATO expansion during the Cold War but in favor of it after the Cold War ended. Many Republican strategists and political leaders championed a "freedom agenda," while their Democratic counterparts embraced the goal of a Europe "whole and free."

The Clinton administration believed it could keep the pace of NATO expansion slow after postponing it to a second term in deference to Boris Yeltsin's woes. The first tranche was modestonly three central European states distant from Russias borders. But the door was now wide open, and the mantra of ending Cold War divisions opened that door to almost everyone.

NATO expansion was based on two mistaken assumptionsthat delicate balances could be struck between domestic political imperatives and national security interests, and that a weakened Moscow could only react with complaint, not strenuous countermeasures.

Then came the George W. Bush administration which pursued a different agenda. Bush and his advisers dispensed with Clintons hesitancy and put the pedal to the metal to expand NATO eastward. If Poland was in then so, too, were the Baltic states. Team Bush pushed for the inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia. Hard-nosed realists morphed into transformationalists. Over time, as Russia rebounded, there was strong pushback, as George Kennan and others predicted.

NATO expansion ensured that an era of confrontation would follow an abbreviated era of partnership, just the reverse of what advocates propounded. But not right away because Putin was still operating from a position of weakness. Even then, Russian proxies held territories in newly independent Moldova and Georgia, but the patina of U.S.-Russian cooperation remained. So did Putins resentment of the deals Gorbachev and Yeltsin made over the qualms of the General Staff of the Defense Forces of Georgia, which began to find its footing in the 2008 war.

Provisions of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and its companion confidence- and security-building measures that reflected the Soviet Unions demise were the first to be disregarded. The INF Treatys disallowance of missiles deemed necessary for revived Russian chess-playing in Europe and Asia was violated. The umbrella agreement for Cooperative Threat Reduction projects expired, and so on.

Even so, the Ukrainian Revolution was a game changer, the proverbial last straw for Putin. The annexation of Crimea and hybrid warfare in eastern Ukraine followed. But what of the straws before it? Was Putin going to be Putin regardless, or might conventional and nuclear arms control have survived if Clinton and Bush 43 made different decisions?

Alas, the likelihood of different decisions was nil. There was only one Cabinet member on Clintons teamWilliam Perry at the Pentagonwho expressed serious qualms about NATO expansion, and Perrys position was to buy time rather than to staunchly oppose the expansion. As Perry recounts in his memoir, he was given the courtesy of a National Security Council meeting where he was met with silence and rebutted by Vice President Al Gore. The die was cast.

NATO expansion was pre-cooked in 1993. It would have taken an extraordinarily farsighted president, largely immune from political pressures, to have opted for political, military and economic engagement without NATO expansion. Even then, don't discount the possibility that Putin would have run roughshod over Ukrainian sovereignty after the Orange Revolution.

All of this is idle speculation. Not to have expanded NATO would have required great foresight and unnatural restraint against a prostrate foe after winning the Cold War. These conditions didnt exist at the outset of the Clinton administration. And even had Clinton chosen not to expand NATO, George W. Bush and his team of triumphalists and romantics were dead set on doing so. America is dealing with the consequences now.

Michael Krepon is the co-founder of the Stimson Center. He is writing a book on the rise, demise and revival of nuclear arms control.

Image: Reuters

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The Long-Term Costs of NATO Expansion - The National Interest Online

Trump Might Be Right About NATO Engagement in the Mideast – The National Interest Online

In his first White House address after the recent confrontation of the United States with Iran, President Donald Trump asked NATO to take a bigger role in the Middle East. His call for higher involvement in the processes of the troubled region was met with much skepticism. Yet, though many fail to acknowledge it, NATO and its European members have a stake in the events in the Middle East. By taking a more leading position in a region not so far away from Europe, the alliance has not only the chance to help in peace efforts but also to recalibrate its scope and capabilities in the face of increasingly hybrid and indirect threats and challenges.

Though different members of the organization may have diverging interests and concerns, everybody wants to prevent an escalation that could be devastating. Some of the suggestions floated by President Trump, including the possibility of expanding NATO to the Middle East is extreme and will likely be rejected a priori. But these wild suggestions should not distract from the concrete possibility of having an increased NATO presence and role in that region.

The North Atlantic alliance, with unparalleled military capabilities in the modern world, has served as a powerful deterrent against destabilizing activities and malignant actors in Europe, especially vis a vis Russia, and has contributed actively in the fight against terrorism. Now, with new challenges being presented in its close proximity, NATO has the possibility to gain capabilities in terms of strategic engagement in peace efforts and serve as a cohesive force in defusing conflicts that could indirectly affect many member states.

No one can negate the already great contribution in prior U.S. efforts in the Mideast. The first and only invocation of NATOs Article 5, which enshrines the principle of collective defense, was after the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11. The military alliance actively participated in the Afghanistan campaign. More recently, NATO has been an integral part of the U.S.-led campaign in the fight against the Islamic State.

Yet, while so far NATO has participated with active deployments and ground presence in these missions, the complexity of some conflicts, such as the one with Iran, would promote the development of new capabilities beyond merely military ones. New capacities in conflict prevention and peace efforts would not be a result of an artificial goal, but rather a natural inclination stemming from the acknowledgment that modern security concerns have evolved.

A potential military confrontation or a fully-fledged war could have unintended consequences for Europe. Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that they can have side effects on the security and stability of Europe. The wars in Syria and in Libya were accompanied by an influx of migrants that destabilized Europe and resulted in a humanitarian crisis that tore European consensus apart.

In reacting to the news of the death of Soleimani, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg took a measured and careful approach due to the sensitivity of the moment and the risk of escalation. Both the United States and Iran have stated that they do not want a military confrontation but there is still the danger that unforeseen events and miscalculations could lead to war. The opportunity is there for NATO to get actively involved in Mideast peace efforts.

Many Europeans might be skeptical about this new dimension of NATO but it is worth highlighting that European powers could elevate their geopolitical position and address security concerns through it. The need to revamp the military union has been emphasized by European leaders. French president Emmanuel Macrons provocation with his characterization of NATO as an organization experiencing a brain death aimed to increase awareness about the need for the recalibration of its role and mission.

For many decades, NATO has served as a peace tool that deterred hostile actors with its military might. In an increasingly changing world and with new complex challenges that asymmetrically and indirectly affect its members, the alliance needs to develop and enhance its capabilities in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace efforts. By doing so, it could serve as a strategic force in containing current and future conflicts that could threaten the security and stability of its member states. The current Mideast is a good place to start.

Akri ipa is a foreign policy expert and researcher specialized in the Balkans and the Middle East. He holds a Master of Science degree in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University in New York. He can be found on Twitter @AkriCipa

Image: Reuters

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Trump Might Be Right About NATO Engagement in the Mideast - The National Interest Online

Bosniak Leader: Bosnian Serbs Will Eventually Agree to Join NATO – Balkan Insight

Bakir Izetbegovic. Photo: EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE

Bakir Izetbegovic, the leader of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA and a member of the upper house of Bosnias parliament, said on Tuesday that the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs will ultimately see the security value in joining NATO.

The position of the [Bosnian] Serbs will mature regarding [NATO membership], and together with other [ethnic groups], they will choose the path that brings stability and security, prevents new conflicts and improves living standards just like it happened in other countries that joined NATO, Izetbegovic told Glas Srpske newspaper.

In a reconciliatory tone, Izetbegovic said however that the country will not join the military alliance before its three main ethnic groups Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs all agree to pursue that path.

The wars that broke out because of Yugoslavias collapse and the NATO intervention ended 25 years ago. We need to move on, reconcile and make rational and responsible decisions, he said.

Bosnian Serb political leaders vehemently oppose the countrys bid to join NATO, and both ruling and opposition parties have a clear position that Bosnia cant join the alliance before Serbia does.

NATO intervened late in the Bosnian war of the 1990s by bombing Bosnian Serb Army positions in 1995, as part of a broader campaign to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

The campaign ended with the Dayton peace accords that year, which ended the bloodshed and carved Bosnia into two semi-autonomous entities, the mainly Bosniak and Croat Federation and the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska.

In 1999, NATO also intervened in the Kosovo war by bombing targets in Serbia and Montenegro, resulting in the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province, which declared independence in 2008.

Bosnias NATO membership bid became a stumbling block in talks on forming a government following the elections in the country in 2018.

The Bosniak and Bosnian Serb parties that came out victorious in the election locked horns over a plan to send Bosnias first so-called Annual National Plan to NATO a step considered to necessary to activate the countrys NATO Membership Action Plan resulting in a year-long impasse that was resolved just recently, due to mediation by the European Union.

The leader of the main Bosnian Serb party, Milorad Dodik, who is also the Serb member of Bosnias tripartite presidency, agreed in December to send the plan to NATO without specifically mentioning the membership bid, but the document is considered to be the Annual National Plan in everything but name.

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Bosniak Leader: Bosnian Serbs Will Eventually Agree to Join NATO - Balkan Insight

Norway Will Solve Missions on Iceland with the Brand New F-35 Fighter Aircraft – High North News

Norway is now ready to solve missions both in Norway and abroad with the newfighter aircraft, the F-35, the NorwegianArmed Forces says in a press release.

In March, Norway will solve missions in the international operation Iceland Air Policing (IAP) with F-35. This is the first foreign mission to the 332 Squadron after the F-35 was declared initially operational in November.

NATO country Iceland does not have its own defense and thus no capacity to meet the country's need for sovereignty and airspace surveillance. NATO therefore rolls with periodic air defense presence in peacetime.

"The fact that the F-35 can show operational capability in such an operation is an important milestone towards full operational capability in 2025," says Chief of the Air Force, Major General Tonje Skinnarland.

The tasks are similar to those carried out by the Norwegian F-16 from Bod (QRA), call-out to identify unknown aircraft. Norway, on behalf of NATO, will be responsible for this for a period of 3 weeks. The detachment consists of 130 soldiers, commanders, officers and civilians.

Colonel Stle "Steel" Nymoen, commander of the 332 Squadron, has been appointed as head of the Norwegian contribution, called Detachment Commander.

"The fact that Norway fulfills the mission of Iceland Air Policing shows that we are a reliable, high quality allied partner. Participation has a high symbolic effect, both for Norway and the rest of NATO," saysNymoen.

He adds that the personnel are now in the preparation phase at the Orland fighter jet base before departure.

"The F-35 is now in daily use in Norway, and we have come so far with the phasing in that we can now also solve missions for NATO. Thus, one of the milestones in phasing in the F-35 has been reached," he adds.

The QRA mission engages Norway on a daily basis. At one time there are two F-16 on15 minutes of standby time in Bod. The air defense is therefore well acquainted with the mission. In addition, the Air Force has performed Air Policing missions in the past, both in Lithuania and several times in Iceland. Both of these missions have been solved with the F-16.

Now it is the F-35 that will take over the baton. For the Armed Forces, the F-35 is an important part of the total defense, which will protect Norway and assert both our and NATO's borders in the north.

"The F-35 has proven to be a very good tool and works better than expected," concludes colonel Nymoen.

Continue reading here:

Norway Will Solve Missions on Iceland with the Brand New F-35 Fighter Aircraft - High North News

Poland calls for Nato ‘readiness’ on Russia – EUobserver

Nato troops in eastern Europe ought to be "combat ready" to deter Russian aggression, Poland's ruling party chief, Jarosaw Kaczyski, has said.

But he also defended his conservative views on homosexuals and Poland's judicial reforms in a turbulent weekend for Polish-EU relations.

"He [Russian leader Vladimir Putin] only attacks where he sees weaknesses and sees a chance to win," Kaczyski, the chairman of Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, told German newspaper Bild on Saturday (25 January).

"Russia finds it difficult to face massive resistance, even of a diplomatic nature. This certainly applies to Poland and the Baltic states. That is why Nato presence is so important here," he added.

"Germany should send more troops to the Baltic States ... Good combat and operational readiness is required in eastern Europe," Kaczyski said.

The PiS chairman rarely gave interviews.

But he spoke out to rebuke Putin for "misusing history for his politics" after the Russian leader recently accused Poland of starting World War 2 [WW2] and of colluding in the Holocaust.

"The world knows the truth: It was Stalin's Soviet Union that attacked Poland on 17 September 1939. It was Soviet soldiers and hangmen of the NKVD [secret police] who murdered hundreds of thousands of Polish officers in Katy ... in 1940," Kaczyski said.

Poland is currently weighing up whether to seek WW2 reparations from Germany in a move that could further strain EU politics.

But Kaczyski also praised modern Germany by contrast to Putin's regime.

"Germany and Russia are not comparable! There is a democratically elected government in Berlin, where law and morality apply. This cannot be said of Russia," Kaczyski noted.

German WW2 transparency has also "made it really difficult for Russia and its president to continue telling lies and portraying us Poles in a bad light," he added.

Kaczyski spoke amid turbulent times also in Polish-EU relations.

EU institutions launched a sanctions procedure against Poland two years ago over allegations that PiS was undermining judicial independence.

The Polish constitutional court could no longer "give effective constitutional review", a European Commission spokesman also noted last Friday, while urging PiS to restore the court's "legitimacy".

That saw Polish deputy foreign minister Pawe Jaboski summon the EU envoy to Warsaw, Marek Prawda, for a telling off on Saturday.

The EU statements were "seriously inconsistent" and based on "double standards", Jaboski said.

They were a based on "a major misunderstanding", Kaczyski also told Bild, and the PiS judicial reforms were needed to purge "privileged groups" in Polish society who "originate from communist times", he added.

For her part, the EU commissioner for values, Vera Jourov, is in Warsaw on Monday to take part in a WW2 memorial prior to official meetings.

And she would continue to put pressure on Poland to respect EU norms, Prawda, the EU envoy, told Polish press.

"The European Commission is a community of law and cannot ignore the threats posed to [Polish] judges," he said on Saturday.

The PiS has also clashed with the EU on migrants and on liberal mores more broadly speaking.

Kaczyski himself, in the past, has said African migrants brought "parasites and [dangerous] protozoa" to Europe and that homosexuality was a "threat".

He did not mention migrants on Sunday.

But he told Bild: "Whoever questions the traditional family model - the coexistence of men and women - is not only endangering Poland or Europe, but actually also the foundations of our civilisation".

Kaczyski claimed "there is no violence against homosexuals" in Poland, even though police arrested 25 people for attacking a pride march in one Polish town last July, for instance.

And he belittled EU support for the gay rights movement by suggesting it was a fake cause.

"I could ask another question: 'Is the EU also addressing violence against small men?'," Kaczyski said.

Read the rest here:

Poland calls for Nato 'readiness' on Russia - EUobserver

#NATO and EU must toughen up on #Balkan drug gangs – EU Reporter – EU Reporter

Earlier this month, the Greek capital was rocked when two men were murdered in cold blood at a popular Athens restaurant in front of their wives and children. The victims, Stevan Stamatovi and Igor Dedovi, were believed to be members of the infamous Montenegrin drug-smuggling Skaljari clan, with the hit allegedly ordered by their rivals, the Kavac outfit.

Depressingly, high-profile incidents such as this one have become increasingly commonplace in recent years. The spiraling violence is testament not only to the emergence of Balkan gangs as a force to be reckoned with in the importation of narcotics into Europe from South America, but its brazen nature also underlines the fact that those responsible feel theyre able to act with impunity outside of their national borders. For countries like Montenegro and Albania which harbor ambitions of joining the EU that kind of lawlessness should not be allowed to go on unchecked.

Par for an increasingly violent course

The Athens atrocity is only the latest in a concerningly lengthy list of overseas attacks. In January 2018, a prominent member of the Kavac gang was gunned down in his own vehicle in Belgrade. At the end of the same year, a Viennese restaurant became the battleground, as one man was killed and another grievously injured when gunmen opened fire at a famous Austrian eatery. No arrests have yet been made for any of these three incidents, which represent just the tip of the iceberg in this ever-bloodier spat between the two gangs.

The vendetta is still fairly fresh. Just ten years ago the two factions were united, but the assassination of high-ranking member Dragan Dudi in May 2010 followed by the subsequent arrests of kingpins Dusko and Darko ari left behind a power vacuum that tore the gang apart. The disappearance of around 250kg of cocaine in 2015 was the spark that lit the touchpaper which continues to fuel this raging inferno even to this day.

Drugs as the root cause

Of course, the drugs themselves are the real root cause of the problem. Taking into account the sums at stake, its little wonder that the feud is such an intense one. According to the latest figures, there are 3.6 million adults in the EU using cocaine each year, which fuels a demand of around 91 tons of the stuff flowing in from South America on an annual basis. With a market value of 5.7 billion, its easy to see why everyone is desperate for a piece of the pie.

The most recent Global Initiative report has highlighted how those Balkan gangs are commanding a bigger share than ever before. Given that a single kilo of cocaine can fetch up to 80,000, and that the average drug ring traffics between 500kg and 1,000kg per year, the potential gross profits can be substantial and the net is over half of that amount.

New kids on the bloc

As recently as 2014, 80% of the cocaine entering Europe came from Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands or Spain. However, times have changed, and the GI report has identified Balkan ports as new epicenters of the drug trade. In particular, Bar, Budva and Kotor (where the Kavac and Skaljari clans are originally from) in Montenegro and Drres, Vlor and Saranda in Albania have developed into so-called illicit transit zones, experiencing a high volume of illegal activity in recent years.

This is due to their ideal location, advanced infrastructure, high unemployment rates and, most significantly of all, weak governments. They are either situated in disputed territories where jurisdictions are unclear or, most concerningly of all, in areas where the authorities seem to be complicit in the crimes. Indeed, investigative reports in both nations have turned up incidences of political figures embroiled in unsavory stories linked to the drug trade, which paint their regimes in less than flattering colors.

Unbecoming behavior

In 2019, Saimir Tahiri was found guilty of abuse of his former position as Albanian Interior Minister but crucially, he escaped charges of corruption and drug trafficking. Instead of serving the 12-year prison sentence which prosecutors were hoping for, he was given a three-year probation. The verdict came just one month before the EU met to decide whether to allow Albanian accession to the bloc and the lax ruling can hardly have been met with approval.

Meanwhile, an expos from the OCCRP has revealed that First Bank of Montenegro which is controlled by the family of incumbent President Milo ukanovi counted the aforementioned kingpin ari among its most valued customers. ari is in control of a number of shell companies based in overseas locations like Delaware and the Seychelles, which have deposited vast sums into First Bank and received generous loans in return, with no due diligence done by the bank at the time. In just one example, one of those companies (Lafino Trade LLC) bailed out the bank when it was struggling to stay afloat in 2008, depositing 6 million for five years at a measly 1.5% interest rate. Clearly, First Bank has no qualms about taking money from one of the countrys biggest criminals, and the institutions connections to the highest echelons of power is even more troubling. Worth noting that President ukanovi himself was accused by Italian prosecutors of running a billion-dollar cigarette smuggling ring; he was never charged because of his diplomatic immunity.

EU must act

Given that both Albania and Montenegro are members of NATO and candidates for EU accession, such blatant fostering of a reckless drug trade cannot be allowed to continue. Not only does the practice increase the likelihood of bloodbaths like those seen in Athens, Vienna and Belgrade occurring, but it also destabilizes regions, discourages foreign investment, weakens tourism and exacerbates the brain drain effect.

In order to stop the rot and bring this damaging industry to heel, the eyes of the authorities must no longer be blind. If it means that NATO and the EU must intercede to bring about such a change, so be it but the change must come soon, or the wounds caused by the South American drug trade in Europe will continue to fester.

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Tags: Albania, Balkan drug gangs, eu, europe, European Union, featured, full-image, Greece, Montenergro, NATO, World

Category: A Frontpage, Crime, Law, Police, Victims of crime

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#NATO and EU must toughen up on #Balkan drug gangs - EU Reporter - EU Reporter

Bolton told Republican donors Trump is mentally unstable and will pull the US out of NATO if reelected: report – AlterNet

In his book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, former National Security Adviser John Bolton according to the New York Times tears apart one of President Donald Trumps main defenses against impeachment. Trump and his defenders have maintained that the president never tied military aid to Ukraine with an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, but a leaked manuscript of his book shows Bolton asserting that Trump did, in fact, tie the two together. And Vanity Fairs Gabriel Sherman, in a January 28 article, sheds some more light on Boltons reasons for speaking out against Trump: the presidents mental state.

Sherman reports that according to his sources, Bolton has told Republican donors that he considers Trump mentally unstable and fears that the president would completely pull the U.S. out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if he wins a second term in November. Certainly, Trump has been a vehement critic of NATO and fails to see its value. And Joe Biden has warned that Trumps reelection could mean the end of NATO, which the former vice president believes would be disastrous for both the U.S. and Europe.

The Room Where It Happened isnt due out until March 17. And Sherman reports in his Vanity Fair article that pro-Trump Republicans are going to great lengths to discredit Bolton and his book. An anonymous source close to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Vanity Fair, Pompeo and Bolton were at war with each other during the administration. Pompeo thought that Bolton was constantly trying to undercut him and the president.

But anti-Bolton histrionics coming from Team Trump, according to Sherman, doesnt necessarily mean that Bolton wont testify during Trumps impeachment trial. A GOP source told Vanity Fair that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is resigned to the fact there will be witnesses during the trial.

A source described by Sherman as close to Bolton told Vanity Fair, Boltons been out there trying to bring down Trump. Hes the ultimate passive/aggressive.

then let us make a small request. AlterNets journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. Were here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And were proud to say that weve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 yearslonger than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

Its through the generosity of our supporters that were able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone cant pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

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Bolton told Republican donors Trump is mentally unstable and will pull the US out of NATO if reelected: report - AlterNet

Are Turkish ships working with the Libyan coastguard in the central Mediterranean? – InfoMigrants

The rescue organization Sea-Watch says Turkey has breached human rights by handing over a group of 30 migrants to the Libyan Coast Guard in the Mediterranean.

The picture is blurry and the Mediterranean looks misty, butsailing across a blue-gray sea in the center of the picture is a warship. It is a Turkish frigate, according to the crew of the Moonbird, Sea-Watch's surveillance aircraft in the Mediterranean. In the foreground, some distance away from the frigate, are two much smallercraftpossibly a migrant boat and the LibyanCoastguard, Sea Watch suggests in a Tweet.

The message posted on January 29 says: "The crew ofthe Moonbird recorded yesterday how a Turkish frigate intercepted 30 people andhanded them over to the so-called Libyan Coastguard. Turkey is a signatory tothe European Human Rights Convention, but with this action it has taken part in a severebreach of human rights."

The pressspokesman for Sea-Watch, Ruben Neugebauer, confirmed that this is what hiscolleagues saw. They have not yet released a press release on thesubject.

Turkish press confirms story

In theHurriyetarticle, much clearer pictures show uniformedtroops appearing to help a migrant, whose back is to the camera, step from onesmall inflatable dinghy to another. The article begins by confirming that aTurkish Navy frigate TCG Gazientep "which is on a Mediterranean duty to supportNATO's Operation Sea Guardian, rescued 30 migrants on a drifting dingy offLibya."

The Turkish navymission stepped in, "providing aid and medical support," according to Hurriyet. It says that theTCG Gaziantep is one of five Turkish ships currently operating as part of the NATOoperation in the Mediterranean. Alongside Gaziantep there are three other frigates, "TCG Gkova, TCG Gksu and TCG Gediz as well asa fuel ship TCG Yaray Kudret Gngr," the paper reports.

NATO mission

Operation Sea Guardian

The Sea Guardian operation was broadened in July 2016 at aNATO Warsaw Summit from NATOs "Active Endeavour counter-terrorism mission inthe Mediterranean to a broader maritime security operation." It said aimed at "workingwith Mediterranean stakeholders to maintain maritime situational awareness,deter and counter terrorism and enhance capacity building."

Avideo on the YouTube channel "Libya News"also purports to showthe Turkish crew "rescuing 30 immigrants in Libya."

France accuses Turkey of infringing agreement

The presence of Turkish warships in the central Mediterranean was also uppermost in French President Emanuel Macron's mind. The news agency AP reported on January 29 that Macron accused Turkey of "sending warships and mercenaries to[Libya]." After a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis,Macron described the arrival of Turkish warships in Libyanwaters as "a serious and explicit infringement of what was agreed upon inBerlin." It is unclear to which ships he was referring.

However, APsaid that the Turkish military had confirmed that "four frigates and a refueling vessel were in the central Mediterranean,outside Libyas territorial waters, to support NATO operations in the regionwhile also conducting activities to ensure the security of maritime traderoutes."

In answer to Macron's claims, AP printed astatement from the TurkishForeign Minister,which attacked the French role in Libya. Itread: "It is no secret that [France] gaveunconditional support to Haftar [who is opposing the UN-backed government] in order to have a say concerning Libya'snatural resources, [Haftar's] attacks on the legitimate government, with thehelp of the military support of countries including France, pose the mostserious threat to Libyas territorial integrity and sovereignty. What isexpected of France is to assume a positive role for stability and security inLibya, instead of blaming Turkey."

The latest UNHCR data for Libya, updated onJanuary 24, says that this year "947 refugees and migrantshave been registered as rescued/intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guardand disembarked in Libya." There are still 46,913 registered refugees andasylum seekers in Libya.

Read the rest here:

Are Turkish ships working with the Libyan coastguard in the central Mediterranean? - InfoMigrants

Lord McConnell: After Brexit, the UK can lead the world by example – PoliticsHome.com

The announcement in the Queens speech before Christmas that there would be an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review covering all aspects of defence, diplomacy and development, prompted me to punch the air with delight. An extreme reaction perhaps, but it was a relief that ministers recognised the need to update the policy framework set out nearly a decade ago by William Hague and Andrew Mitchell.

As the UK leaves the European Union on 31 January, such a review is vital to ensure that the UK has the greatest possible positive impact working with others to build a safer, fairer and cleaner world.

Between 2005 and 2015 different UK governments were at the forefront of this approach. Labour created the Stabilisation Unit and introduced the Conflict Fund, pooling money from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and DfID. After 2010, the Tory/Lib Dem government developed this with the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, more dedicated resources and stronger leader-ship through the new National Security Council.

Internationally we were at the heart of discussions on Responsibility to Protect, better peacekeeping and more peacebuilding. Today, the Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund is a major investment in joint working, conflict prevention and peacebuilding. However, policy has not moved on. But there is now a real opportunity to breathe new life into the concept of closer working between the three departments.

Whether we see this through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals particularly Goal 16 on Peace and Justice or from the viewpoint of British interests, there can be no doubt that the challenges of conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the modern world require a combination of defence, diplomacy, development skills and resources. There can be no sustainable peace without development, and there can be no sustainable development without peace.

The UK is ideally placed to lead by example. We are not the number one player at the United Nations but we have a seat at the top table and a diplomatic in-fluence far beyond our shores. We are not the dominant partner in Nato, but the scale of our defence forces gives us influence and reach way beyond most others. We are not the only top-level development funder in the world, but the quantity and quality of our aid that saves and changes lives means others listen to us. Put all three together and the UK can lead the way as an example of integrated foreign, defence and development policy, an example others can follow.

To maximise the impact of such an approach, our commitment to the Rule of Law and Human Rights must be firm; we need to step up our game on the Sustainable Development Goals; the Women, Peace and Security agenda must run through the veins of our strategy; and we need clarity on our priorities and the partners we seek.

Our relationship with the United States is special and our partnerships in Europe are very important but Japan, New Zealand, Canada, individual European countries like Sweden, and some of the stable democracies of Africa, South East Asia and Latin America could provide a basis for new global alliances committed to multilateralism, the Rule of International Law, better corporate behaviour, development to eradicate poverty and disease, and peacebuilding to relieve hundreds of millions from misery.

The climate emergency, global poverty, terrorism and people trafficking cannot be tackled unless we invest in defence, diplomacy and development and we persuade the rest of the world that all three must work together in the 21st Century.

Every major problem facing the UK and our world requires new thinking, new co-operation across professional disciplines and between nations, and new energy to turn words into action. The Queens Speech also said the UK would promote peace and security globally this review is fundamental to making that commitment meaningful.

Lord McConnells debate on the role played by defence, diplomacy, and development policy in building a safer, fairer, and cleaner world is scheduled for Thursday 30 January

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Lord McConnell: After Brexit, the UK can lead the world by example - PoliticsHome.com


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