10 July 2018

Main political and military events - Week 27

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Image source: 123rf.com

[ Romanian Version HERE ]

 

NATO. The Signals Ahead of the Summit Sound Like Coin Chimes

 

During a meeting in Great Falls, Montana, on July 5th, President Donald Trump used a large part of the speech for messages to NATO (as well as his view on his meetings with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin). Quite special was his tough offensive against Germany’s attitude to profit from America’s generosity while not proportionally contributing to financing NATO: ”They want to protect against Russia, and yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we are the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing… We're paying for anywhere from 70 to 90 percent to protect Europe, and that's fine. Of course, they kill us on trade… We have 151 billion dollars in trade deficits with the EU and on top of that, they kill us with NATO”. The American President added that the US spends 4% of a huge budget (actually 3.6%), while Germany, which is the largest EU nation, spends only 1% (actually 1.2%). Donald Trump suggested that the American military support might diminish, because the Berlin government does not spend minimum 2% for defense: “I said, you know, Angela, I can't guarantee it, but we're protecting you, and it means a lot more to you than protecting us because I don't know how much protection we get by protecting you”. Such threat was also included in a recent letter the US President wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel.  

The same day, the US Ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, declared during a briefing at the White House that ”there is nothing being said at all about the troop alignment in Germany or anything that would change the 32,000-troop force that we have in Germany”. Even more, the American diplomat praised the Berlin government for its availability to host the headquarters of a new NATO mission meant to support troop mobility. Kay Bailey Hutchison mentioned that 16 NATO nations of 29 are about to reach the 2% goal by 2024, and all NATO members increased their contributions, which led to “the biggest increase in defense spending by our allies since the Cold War”. President Trump even takes credit for this development: “Since I came, which is a year and a half, almost $33 billion more is projected to be paid by those NATO nations…”

The comments are redundant, the next Summit, to be held in the new premises (which cost two billion USD), will be about money. The European leaders will need to be prepared to talk to a businessman who is not eager to listen to many explanations and excuses, and who has the necessary tools to respond timely to the allies with shallow pockets. Romania counts among the nations which already reached the promised threshold, which provides us with the exquisite opportunity to tackle totally different topics than explanations and excuses. Will we know what to propose? Will we be able to bring to fruition the budgetary effort, or we will be happy enough with the group picture at the flags? What are the objectives?  What is our level of ambition? Just to humbly squeeze our hat by the door, happy to have paid the taxes?

 

THE EUROPEAN UNION. Establishment of the European Defence Fund

 

For the first time in history, on July 3rd, the European parliamentaries OK-ed the decision to establish a program dedicated to improving innovation within the European defense industry, including in cyber security. The new European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) is meant to contribute to funding the development of new and upgraded products and technologies. The aim is to develop the military capabilities of member nations and to promote the strategic independence of the EU.

The new European Defence Fund, budgeted with 500 million Euros for 2019-2020, is also destined to increase the effectiveness of budgetary spending, and to stimulate innovation in defense, across the EU. The European Defence Fund has two components:

- Research: Starting in 2017, the EU offered for the first time grants for collaborative research in novel defense technologies and products, all financed entirely and directly from the EU budget. The eligible projects focus on prioritary areas previously agreed among the member nations. Generally, they include electronic products, metamaterials, encrypted software or robotics. This component will be funded with 90 million Euros until the end of 2019, with 25 million Euros allocated for 2017. Presently, a request for proposals is being issued, regarding projects for naval unmanned systems and soldier systems. The first funding agreements are expected to be signed by the end of this year. In 2018, the European Commission will issue a EU program dedicated to research in defense after 2020. With a budget estimated at 500 million Euros, this will make the EU one of the largest investors in research for defense, in Europe.

- Development and procurement: The Fund will create incentives for member nations to cooperate in joint development, and to purchase defense equipment and technologies through EU budget co-funding, and with practical support from the Commission. For example, member nations would be able to jointly invest in drone technology or satellite communications, or jointly bulk purchase helicopters, to reduce costs. Only collaborative projects will be eligible, and part of the overall budget will be earmarked to projects implying transnational cooperation of experts and entrepreneurs. In this respect, the EU will provide co-funding adding up to 500 million Euros, for 2019 and 2020 (in a brand new program directed to defense and industrial development), and 1 billion Euros after 2020. The EU will cofinance projects implemented by consortia made up by at least three public or private companies established in at least three different EU member nations. Winning contracts will require from project bidders to prove that they contribute to excellence, innovation and competitiveness. The projects specifically dedicated to entrepreneurs and small enterprises (up to 3,000 employees) will be eligible for higher co-funding rates, as well as actions within the PESCO framework. The EDIDP will finance the development phase of the new and upgraded technologies in EU defense (between research and production), from studies, through design, testing, and up to certification and development, in fields such as:

- Unmanned systems;

- Autonomous access to space and permanent observation of the Earth;

- Energy sustenability;

- Cyber and maritime security;

- High-tech land, air and naval military capabilities;

- Joint domain systems, including strategic enablers.

The creation of the European Defence Fund is not a new initiative. Since June 2014, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, proclaimed the security of European citizens as priority, and announced, in November 2016, an action plan for the establishment of the European Defence Fund.

In the same time, this initiative speaks to the immediate necesity to intensify the cooperation in defense spending among the EU members, because the lack thereof would cost an estimated annual 25 to 100 billion Euros[1]. About 80% of the public procurement, and over 90% of research and technology are conducted on a national basis[2], and up to 30% of annual defense expenditures could be saved through pooling acquisition[3].

In spite of several initiatives during the last years, the landscape of the European defense industry is marked by insufficient and ineffective investments in development and procurement of future capabilities. In the same time, there are large differences in member nation defense spendings.

 

TURKEY. The ”Cleaning” of Governmental Structures Continues

 

The re-elected President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also prime-minister now, did not wait for the swearing in ceremony (due July 9th), and, using the still in force state of emergency, issued a governmental decree resulting in 18,632 government employees losing their jobs. They were accused of links to terrorist organizations or to groups ”acting against national security”. The most of the newly sacked employees were police (8998), and 3077 were military (1949 air force and 1126 navy). 1052 Justice Ministry employees were also laid off, as well as 649 jendarmerie and 192 coast guard employees. The Turkish media was not ignored, as three newspapers and a TV station were also closed. In order to sugarcoat the pill, the document stipulates that 148 formerly sacked employees are reinstated in their former positions.

The decree heralds a president who will use his extended prerogatives to enforce control over all governmental structures, now as head of executive as well. If the state of emergency is lifted at the end of the six months extension, i.e. on July 19th (maybe even earlier, according to Turkish media), the decree can be interpreted as an authority decision, a signal that the president strats his new and enforced mandate by a strong blow, yet still within an authoritary democracy. On July 7th, Erdoğan announced that travel restrictions would be lifted soon for 181,500 citizens who were banned passports, as result of the July 2016 failed coup. This promise seems to suggest that the president will hold both the presidential scepter – the stick, and the carrot, leaving his countrymen to choose.

 

SYRIA. Government Troops about to Storm the ”Cradle of Syrian Revolution”

 

Saturday, July 7th, the Syrian governmental forces took control over the border-crossing point of Nassib, thus resuming the road connection between Damasq and Amman. This event seems to prepare the offensive to recapture the city of Daraa, called ”the cradle of Syrian revolution”, the place where the anti-government protests started, in the spring of 2011, and later led to civil war. Syrian elite units and convoys loaded with military equipment were already flowing towards Daraa, which is located 8 km from the Jordanian border.

This way, the Damasq regime resumed initiative in SouthSyria, although Syrian rebels still hold a number of localities there. But it is also a sensitive step for the al-Assad regime, as it will have to quell the Jordanian concerns regarding a potential new wave of Syrian refugees. They will also face Israeli concerns, as Israel would not tolerate Iran backed militias or Hezbollah militants at its borders. In addition, in order to accomplish a total encirclement of the city, the Syrian forces will have to gain control of the western parts of Daraa and Quneitra provinces, that is a strech of land along the Golan Heights. The problem is that a stray shell, carried by the wind into the Israel occupied territory might completely change the game.

 

GREAT BRITAIN. A New Skripal Case, or ”Intoxication” by Intoxication

 

Saturday, June 30th, a British middle age couple (Charlie Rawley – 45, and Dawn Sturrgess - 44), was found in a critical state in their residence in Amesbury, southwest England. Sunday, July 8th, the female victim died. An apparently mundane incident, initially attributed to drug abuse, quickly turned into a national interest case in UK. Why? The military laboratory in Porton Down confirmed that the two victims were exposed to a military neurotoxic agent of Soviet production. Immediately, the investigation was taken over by the anti-terrorist police. Although, apparently, there is no connection between the former KGB agent Sergei Skripal and the Amesbury couple, there are some coincidences though: Amesbury is located at approximately 11 km from Salisbury, where Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in March; the neurotoxic agent identified by the Porton Down lab is the same as the one used in Skripal attempt – Novichok (Russian for ”newcomer”); the Amesbury couple appears to have visited, in that very Saturday, the Queen Elisabeth Gardens, a park in Salisbury, located a short distance from the place where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found in shock, after the poisoning attempt.

Chaired by the Home Ministry, Sajid Javid, the British Cabinet convened Thursday, July 5th on this issue, and Prime-Minister Theresa May’s spokesman communicated that the situation is being very seriously scrutinized. The incident also triggered a chain reaction, both in Britain and abroad, with experts, analysts and politicians launching various explanations and more or less conspiracy theories.

Vil Sultanovich Mirzayanov, the Russian chemist (Tartar from Bashkortostan) emigrated in the United States in 1995, who firstly revealed the existence of Novichok, thinks that Moscow is behind the second poisoning case as well, meant to generate confusion about the origin of the Skripal attempt. In his opinion, by doing so, Russia wants to demonstrate it has no connection with the poisoning cases, which are a British domestic security problem.

An opinion in the specialized media[4] points out that the incident is 90% caused by the contact of the two with an object thrown by the culprits of the first attempt, such as a coat having in a pocket the recipient carrying the neurotoxic agent. This hypothesis is supported by Andrew C. Weber, former advisor for NBC[5] defense with the US Department of Defense, and also by Amesbury locals, who stated that at least one of the two recent victims used to reuse items collected from garbage bins and dumpsters.

Russian media also published explosive scenarios, parallel with denying any involvement by Moscow in the two events, and blatantly distorting the British official messages. Certain Russian officials maintain that these incidents are used to cast a shadow over Russia, when their country is hosting the Football / Soccer World Cup. Meanwhile, Nikolay Kovalyov, former director (1996–1998) of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), says that the attacks have been generated by a British researcher with the Porton Down secretive chemical laboratory[6], also close to Salisbury. He claims that a lab researcher, in an access of insanity, performs various experiments on locals in the area. 

The recent Amesbury incident, which deepens the diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia, might be an accidental consequence of the first attack. However, another scenario, that the second attack was directed against a random target, with no relevance for the originator, cannot be ruled out, as it would be useful to cover the culprits of the first attack.

The participation or not of British officials (royalty or Cabinet ministers) at the final match of the World Cup, provided the UK qualified for the final, would indicate which of the two above mentioned scenarios is closer to the truth.



[1] EPRS, European Parliament, 2013.

[2] European Defence Agency, 2014.

[3] Munich Security Report, 2017.

[4] Richard Guthrie, editor coordinator with CBW Events – a website specialized in chemical and biologic weapons.

[5] Nuclear, bacteriological, and chemical.

[6] Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, established in 1916.