Category Archives: Europe

Analysis related to USEUCOM

Poland’s New Year Defense Resolutions

800px-Polish_Navy_sailors_2Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s Minister of Defense, was asked by the Polish web site “All the Essentials” what he considers the key ideas for 2014. This made for a very short list, but there are some interesting details. The main points he raised are:

1. Still the United States! Despite many talking about the decline of American power and influence, Mr. Siemoniak believes this view premature and that Washington will remain a center for setting global security trends. He adds, however: “hopefully without further pivots and resets.” To be sure, U.S. presence in Europe remains crucial for Poland.

2. Cyber Defense. Siemoniak’s observations that effective cyberattacks can send victims directly to the Stone Age are not without a sense of humor. But that is perhaps the right tool in what he believes necessary-raising awareness among decision makers, the military, the press, and ordinary citizens. The storm caused by Snowden resulted in Sea State 1 in Poland. “Hard compromises between security and privacy are unavoidable.”

3. How Many Divisions? The message is that we need to diverge from the old paradigm of troop numbers, equipment, and the talents of commanders in determining the robustness of a state’s security. The economy, culture attractiveness, energy resources, and “even people ready to defend on Twitter our arguments in English or Russian” are important ingredients of a country potential.

4. Polish Fangs. This literary expression describes a shift in Poland’s security strategy that occurred last June. The elements of conventional deterrence form a basis for the armed forces modernization plan. The concept is a bit fluid and contains some elements of A2/AD, but despite modern acronyms the roots of the strategy can be traced to the classic book of B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy:

The acquisitive state, inherently unsatisfied, needs to gain victory in order to gain its object – and must therefore court greater risk in the attempt. The conservative state can achieve its object by merely inducing the aggressor to drop his attempt at conquest – by convincing him that “the game is not worth the candle.”

2013 was not a bad year for the Polish Armed Forces, but this short list of ideas demonstrates how the concepts of national security and defense evolved and becomes ever broader.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is the context, purpose, and structure of navies – and promoting discussion on these subjects in his country.

Prosperity or Instability? The Natural Gas Game in the Eastern Mediterranean

By Andrew Chisholm

The discovery of substantial natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean sea holds the potential to bring great prosperity to several countries in the region. But the overlap of the gas fields with long-standing disputes has upped regional tensions, threatening to de-stabilize the area’s politics. The outcome will, of course, depend on many factors.

Security in the tension-fraught Middle East often fills international headlines, from conflict in Syria to Iran’s alleged nuclear program, to Israel-Palestine and more. However, many players are now focusing on a less flashy issue that may be just as important – substantial natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean sea.

Some 35 trillion-cubic-feet (tcf) have been located, while estimates range up to 120tcf, dispersed in the Tamar and Leviathan fields, among others. To date, the key beneficiaries are Israel and Cyprus, who stand to gain through achieving significant energy security, as well as through exports. However, the predicted locations of some gas fields overlap several maritime boundaries causing disputes between Israel and Lebanon as well as Greek- and Turkish Cyprus, intensifying long-standing tensions. Whether the eventual exploitation of these deposits will strengthen or undermine regional stability depends on many factors.

Prospective gas fields and disputed maritime boundaries (The Economist)
Prospective gas fields and disputed maritime boundaries (The Economist)

The Israeli-Lebanese border dispute is complicated by the potential for action by Hamas, which has threatened to attack Israeli gas platforms. Israel’s navy is largely occupied with enforcing its blockade of Gaza, and may lack the capacity, and capability, to secure offshore platforms especially from unconventional threats. Meanwhile Turkey, which does recognize Greek-Cypriot boundary claims and possesses the region’s most powerful navy, has been increasingly active, scheduling major naval exercises and upping its general presence in the area.

The US and Russia are important players as well, and could play multiple roles. Russia’s Gazprom has indicated financial interest, and the Russian navy has held three major exercises in the Mediterranean since 2011. Its potential as a stabilizing force in the future, though, depends on the uncertain fate of its Syrian naval facility, without which Russia’s ability to deploy in the area would be severely restricted. The Americans have been involved in exploration from the beginning and have good relations with most actors in the region. However, its support for Greek-Cypriot claims (also supported by Russia) could cause problems with Turkey while the US navy’s attention is fixed on the Persian Gulf and increasingly on Asia-Pacific, presumably restricting America’s willingness to balance Mediterranean tensions.

Another key factor will be the evolving state of the Israel-Turkey relationship. Their recent re-starting of diplomatic ties certainly bodes well for regional stability, and the potential for energy cooperation may spur its development. However, its impact on maritime boundary disputes, and therefore resource extraction, remains to be seen. Closer ties might calm the Cypriot dispute, although those tensions could also pose challenges (Israel concluded a maritime boundary agreement with Greek Cyprus in 2010, which Turkey does not recognize on principle). In the former case, Turkey’s naval power could serve to fill any gaps left by Israel’s security forces, and an alliance of these key regional powers might negate the need for a balancing force from outside. On the other hand, it could equally prove de-stabilizing in the latter scenario, should Turkish-Israeli naval confrontations become a reality (which I believe is unlikely).

All things considered, the future of natural gas development the Eastern Mediterranean is clouded, and the risks may in fact equal the potential rewards. From the outside, we will simply have to watch and wait.

Andrew Chisholm is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. He recently graduated from the University of King’s College with a B.A., Combined Honours, in Political Science and History, and studied Conflict Resolution at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Andrew focuses his writing on contemporary Canadian foreign, defence, and security policy.

Maritime Warmongering: Russia’s Black Sea Military Exercise

Aaron Willschick on the tension over the recent Russian military exercise in the Black Sea and how Russian President Vladimir Putin should put an end to his persistent warmongering.

In what is becoming an almost daily occurrence, the Russian government has again stolen the front page news headlines with its recent military exercise involving more than thirty warships, 250 combat vehicles and up to 7, 000 troops. The exercise has been met with confusion and anxiety from the international community with regards to what in fact Russia’s intention was with ordering the surprise maritime exercise.

The country that has had the strongest reaction against the exercise is Georgia. Tensions have been high between the two countries ever since they went to war in 2008 over the separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In response to the exercise, the Georgian government said Russian military action in the Black Sea was “at odds with the interests of stability.” The official Russian statement on the drills from state-run news agency RIA Novosti was that they were meant to ensure regional stability ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

On April 1st, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed Georgia’s condemnation, stating that Tbilisi’s assertion was groundless and out of sync with its declared commitment to normalize its relationship with Russia. The Foreign Ministry also stated that Georgia’s claims that the military drills were destabilizing reflects its own regional aggressions. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the Georgian reaction was “a public inflation of a Russian threat to cover its own confrontational policy.” NATO has not offered an official response to the exercise, but a NATO-member diplomat suggested that there was some unease over the surprise nature of the drill. There was no official objection from Ukraine either, but some members of the parliament chose to voice their displeasure.

Under international law, maritime exercises of this size do not need to be announced to other countries in advance, but as evidenced by some of the reaction, it has only added to the mounting international skepticism over Russia’s global intentions. Despite the rising tension, it is fairly clear that the Black Sea military exercise is yet more warmongering by the Kremlin and Putin and what we have come to expect during his lengthy tenure as either Russian President or Prime Minister. Putin himself even chose to attend the exercise in the Black Sea town of Anapa, along with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. During his time in office, Putin has used his role as commander-in-chief to cast himself as a strong leader for whom national security is foremost. Particularly since returning to the presidency last May, Putin has stressed the importance of a strong and agile military. He has often cited external threats in his thirteen years in power when discussing the need for reliable armed forces. It has been reported that spontaneous training missions resembling this one are apparently set to become routine in the Russian military.

Despite Russian denials, it is quite apparent that this exercise is part of some grand strategy of standing up to the West and asserting Russia’s regional dominance. Putin seems intent on projecting Russian power towards Europe as well as the Middle East. In late February, Putin ordered military leaders to make urgent improvements to the armed forces in the next few years, saying Russia must thwart Western attempts to tip the balance of power. He said that manoeuvres must be held with less advance warning to keep soldiers ready and prepared. Observers have commented that the drill is likely part of a wider attempt to reconfirm that the Russian navy and military are still able to play a political and geopolitical role in the south.

It is time for Putin to put an end to his regular attempts at flexing Russia’s geopolitical and military might. It has become all too regular an occurrence that it has now grown to be predictable and reminiscent of Soviet rhetoric during the Cold War. As a leader, Putin seems intent on making himself feared on the international stage which is unrealistic in this day and age. All the strength he is putting into trying to raise Russia’s geopolitical prominence could be spent on re-establishing and reinforcing relationships with Western powers. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this will happen until Putin has decided that his time in the Russian political spotlight has come to an end, a remote possibility unlikely to occur any time soon.

Aaron Willschick is a recent graduate from the MA program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He also holds an MA degree in political science from York University and a BaH from York University’s Glendon College. His research interests include the European Union, European security and defense policy, NATO enlargement to Eastern Europe and democratization. He has extensive experience in policy and research, having worked as a trade assistant at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and a research assistant to well-known Canadian author Anna Porter and York University political science professor Heather MacRae.

Parallel Rocks

Civilian authorities spot a foreign fishing vessel trawling their nation’s territorial waters. The authorities move to intercept but are held at bay by the offending vessel’s government escorts. The scene: Gibraltar. The actors: The U.K. and Spain.

As readers of this blog know, stand-offs over fishing rights and territorial disputes have made a lot of news of late when they occur between China and its Asian neighbors. But they don’t happen solely in the Pacific.

The long-running territorial dispute between Spain and the U.K. over the famous gateway to the Mediterranean has grabbed headlines locally in recent weeks as Spanish trawlers have twice fished in Gibraltar’s territorial waters while Spanish Civil Guardia vessels escorted the vessels.

According to the BBC, in the latest incident four police vessels and a British Royal Navy patrol boat intercepted a single trawler but did not attempt to board the vessel as it was shadowed by two Civil Guardia vessels. Spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police, Richard Ullger, said “we avoid active enforcement because it could provoke an incident.” Yet the captain of the Spanish trawler, Francisco Gomez, highlighted the tenseness of the confrontation claiming the vessels were so close that some of the hulls scraped each other. After 6 hours the vessel left. The Royal Gibraltar Police will issue a court summons for the crew, but it is not expected that they will appear in court.

In light of the incident a Member of the European Parliament for Gibraltar, Julie Girling warned, “What we don’t want in Gibraltar is a situation like the Falklands: there seem to be disturbing parallels in attempts to damage the livelihoods of Gibraltar’s fishermen.”

These are not The Rocks you’re looking for

Girling was of course referring to the current situation in the Falkland’s, not the situation preceding the 1982 war. Yet a comparison between Gibraltar, the Falklands (then and now), and the South China Sea yields interesting insights.

In all three locales, resources contained therein play a role in pushing confrontation. In the South China Sea, rich fishing banks and oil exploration are primary causes for the scramble for territory. In Gibraltar, resources are not really the prize (besides for the local small-scale fishing operations) – the fishing expeditions merely provide a convenient means for pushing the larger territorial claim. Resources didn’t play much part sparking the Falklands War, but today many believe the resurgence of Argentine clamor for the islands is due to the potential oil reserves and fishing that invigorated the islands since the war. Today, the U.K. claims harassment of its own boats in Falklands water by Argentine coast guard vessels.

With regards to both the Chinese and Spanish fishing vessels, one of the more interesting questions is whether it is fishermen or government officials who are the driving force for journeys into contested waters. Are the maritime officials simply assisting their citizens in pursuit of excellent fishing grounds, or are they providing safety to vessels recruited and sent forward in calculated moves? How high in the government do such sensitive expeditions need approval?

The strategic value of these bits of territory also plays a role in their attraction. Gibraltar, dominating the chokepoint between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, also oversees much traffic that heads through the Suez Canal. Islands in the South China Sea sit astride trade routes vital for many economies, and can serve as forward operating bases or logistics and communications relays. The only exception is the Falklands, despite one Argentine paper’s claim at the time of the war that the islands were “strategically important because they were on a direct maritime route to India.”

Another Rock with a contested past

One of the most important distinctions between the South China Sea and the other two instances is that of self-determination. On the issue of sovereign control of territory, international law, international institutions, and disinterested intentional sentiment routinely come down on the side of the principle of self-determination. In Gibraltar the locals have voted in referendums for continued British rule (by 98.9% in 2002). The British meanwhile say they are open to a UN-sponsored referendum in the Falklands, where a similar result is likely, and tellingly it’s an offer the Argentines ignore. This makes it hard for Argentina or Spain to rally legal or global public opinion to their side. The difference for the South China Sea islands is that by and large there are no locals. Most of the bits of territory are tiny non self-sustainable pieces of rock or submerged reef, making resolution harder.

Of these points of conflict, the only that so far turned into a shooting war in modern times was the Falklands. In that case the dictatorship generated a nationalist distraction from a plummeting economy. As smarter people than me have said, this is one good reason no one should wish for the Chinese economy to slow precipitously. While Spain and Argentina today are in their own economic messes, both have the safety valve and check on their actions of democracy.

The good news is that the most common denominator in all of these cases is at least lip service towards peaceful resolution. Despite the nationalist push for the Falklands, President Cristina Kirchner has stated she will obtain the islands only through peaceful means. Foreign ministers of Spain and Britain met Tuesday and urged a peaceful resolution to the fishing issue. In Cambodia the defense secretaries of China and Philippines did the same on the same day.

One final thought. All of this shows the importance of coastal patrol forces, including those administered by civilian agencies, and that they can be used for either defensive or offensive strategic-level maneuvers. Interesting then to see that the Chinese ship construction buildup is not in naval forces alone – the Chinese Maritime Surveillance agency will commission 36 cutters in the next 3 years. (h/t CGblog)