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11 septembrie 2019 - Special reports - NATO - UE

NATO-EU Political and military events /July

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

• “The Cold War” in the Arctic • Turkey, a NATO member state, wants to join BRICS • The EU’s strategy for Central Asia • EUROPOL is developing its fighting means against human smuggling and trafficking• Estonia signs new weapons delivery contracts with the US • Bulgaria purchases eight F16 fighter jets

Sursă foto: Mediafax


“The Cold War” in the Arctic

After being “disconnected” from the “traditional” strategic concerns for more than twenty years, the problem of military competition in the Arctic region has recaptured he attention of global and regional players.

Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Reuters that there is “a model of aggressive behaviour for Russia in the Arctic” and expressed concern regarding the growth of Russia’s military influence in the region. At the same time, Russian officials are concerned with increasing NATO activity in the Arctic. In April 2019, President Vladimir Putin stated that “NATO carried out the largest military drills in the region” and that “the activity of Russian air forces in the Baltic Sea area, in the Arctic, is incomparably lower than that of NATO countries”.

In these conditions, tense relations between the US and Russia could determine the start of a “very cold war” in the Arctic zone.

The competition for the Arctic area is due to fast rate at which the ice sheet is melting, which makes possible the use of new maritime commercial routes, shorter and more economically feasible, as well as the existence in the region of 22% of the fossil fuel resources which are still unexploited.

In June, the US Department of Defense launched the Arctic Strategy. The new document is an update to the one drafted in 2016 and highlights the US’ wish to create a “safe and stable Arctic region in which US national interests are protected, the American territory is protected, and the nations will cooperate positively in order to solve common challenges”. The report expresses special concerns with the maritime route in the North Sea, which seems to be the “key” of regional tensions between Russia and the US. The new sea route, situated in the arctic waters on Russia’s north coast, the shortest sea route tying Southeast Asia to the European part of Russia.

Russia considers itself to be the only nation capable of legitimately protecting its interests in the Arctic area, as its commercial and military investments in the region, as well as military drills carried out surpassed those of other states. As several specialists on the arctic region state, “to control this area it is necessary, among others, to have a fleet of icebreakers”. Currently, while Russia has about 40 icebreakers – including some nuclear-powered ones, the US have the Polar Start 1976 and the USCGC Healey (WAGB-20), entered into service in 2000. This difference cannot be “erased” too soon, which was proven by the US Congress’ approval to build six icebreakers until 2026.

Alongside the construction of icebreakers, the US and a part of its allies in NATO are attempting to respond to the Russian “offensive”. These responses include carrying out some bi-annual military drills (ICEX), reactivating and developing its second fleet (responsible for the US East Coast and the North Atlantic) and renovating and reusing its facilities in Keflavik, Iceland, temporarily shut down after the withdrawal of US forces in 2006.

As NATO does not have a clear and united strategy for the Arctic or the Black Sea, both regions will face increased risks, as the Kremlin is continuing to develop its military capabilities in the two regions. These risks include limiting the freedom of access and manoeuvring, caused by the powerful air defence and interdiction capabilities of Russia (Anti-Access/Area Denial – A2/AD). There is also the risk of a tactical error. An unintentional incident could launch a disastrous military escalation between Moscow and NATO.

Turkey, a NATO member state, wants to join BRICS

Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took part at the 10th BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Johannesburg, in 2018, many political analysts from Turkey and worldwide have been caught in an intense discussion on Turkey’s increasing aspirations to become a permanent member of the group. A great part of the debate has been axed on the material stimulants for which Turkey would want to add the “T” acronym to the group’s name, such as economic and military advantages and extended foreign policy options.

Of course, this aspiration of Turkey raises some questions: 1) Why would a NATO traditional ally and a state aspiring to accede to the EU want to become a full-rights member of BRICS? 2) Would the group’s members be willing to add a “T” to BRICS?

The answer to the first question comes from the benefits Turkey would obtain. The first potential benefit of the BRICS statute would be to grow Turkey’s position in the global relations system. Unfortunately, analysing effects on this segment is hard to predict, as there is no instrument dedicated to this estimation. Most probably, as with the other members, by joining BRICS, Turkey will be able to expose its stance in regional and international problems with a greater weight. There are some examples in this regard. Under the group’s shadow, South Africa consolidated its position as a “continental leader”, and New Delhi is using the club to claim the international respect it considers to deserve.

The second potential benefit is the economic one. Participating in BRICS would help Turkey revise its economic dependency on the West, especially to the EU. At the same time, it would contribute to a grow of Turkey’s foreign trade. Maybe the best example in this regard is South Africa. If before the accession to BRIC, South Africa’s exports to the group’s member were only 6.2% of its total exports, after the accession they grew to 16.8% in 2010 and 29% in 2011. There are no elements to suggest that, following a possible Turkish accession to BRICS, this country’s exports will not grow at a similar rate to those of South Africa.

The status of BRICS member would also offer Turkey a technological partnership, especially with regards to military assistance. Ankara already accepted to purchase S-400 missile defence systems from Russia. At the same time, if it became a BRICS member, Turkey could benefit from the support of the military industries of China, Russia and South Africa, and could also take part in co-producing some weapons systems.

 To answer the second question, we must start from the premise that BRICS is not an institutional organization, built on common values and standards. Therefore, there is no actual roadmap for the economic and political conditions which must be accomplished for the accession. The decision to allow a new member is made exclusively by the representatives of all member states. Therefore, it is difficult to analyse if Turkey fits into BRICS “standards” or not. Despite this, taking into account prior evolutions (such as South Africa), we cannot exclude the hypothesis that the group will open its doors to other “smaller” states, such as Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia. The candidate must be an emergent country, recently industrialized, with a growing economy and a rising political influence on regional affairs. In this sense, we can say that the Turkish president’s invitation to the 10th BRICS summit was not a random event, because South Africa considers Turkey as a strategic partner and a leader in the Middle East region. At the same time, China’s initiative to create a BRICS+ is well-known, in its attempts to intensify cooperation with other developing countries. We must not forget the increasingly tighter economic and military cooperation between Moscow and Ankara.

Turkey, is certainly, way behind other BRICS members (with the exception of South Africa) with regards to its material and economic capacities. Despite this, there is a positive trend in Turkey regarding accession to BRICS and a growth of the anti-West sentiment in Turkey’s current foreign policy. However, Ankara’s wish has yet to take an official form and the potential of joining BRICS is still low at the moment. Despite these realities, we can say that there is a positive tendency in relations between Ankara and BRICS capitals.



The EU’s strategy for Central Asia

Launched in 2007, the EU’s previous strategy for Central Asia became in the meantime outdated and inefficient in promoting EU interests in the region. Following several more inefficient attempts to revise the strategy, the EU realized that the time had come for a new strategy better suited to promote EU interest in the region, in accordance with the international geopolitical context and which, at the same time, would contribute to the development of Central Asia countries.

Central Asia is, in many regards, a space with many opportunities for the EU. Despite all this, the EU can only be a secondary actor on a field dominated by Russia and China. As the US shifted its attention away from Central Asia, the EU is now the main Western power with a clear interest in the region. While the authoritarian leaders of Central Asian countries need the EU to legitimate themselves in the West and counterbalance Russian and Chinese influences, the communities they lead are increasingly more assertive in expressing discontent towards them. This moment must not be missed by the EU, which can create a reform agenda for the region.

The new strategy proves that the EU has matured as a foreign policy actor. The EU has redefined its interests in Central Asia – maybe not as thorough and explicitly as would have been desired, but at least in a manner which takes into account the new global realities, as well the region’s geopolitical dynamic.

At the same time, the new strategy reflects a more exact understanding of the region and the different realities and aspirations of the five countries. In this sense, the strategy explicitly declares that the EU respects the national aspirations and interests of each of its Central Asian partners and will seek to develop its commitments to the countries in the region who are willing and capable to intensify cooperation on common objectives. In this regard, we must highlight the fact that the risk for the EU to compromise its core values under the guise of “principled pragmatism” has not taken shape. The EU strategy treats changes in some Central Asian countries, especially Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as an opportunity to maintain its commitment to promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Another significant change from the old strategy is the EU’s aspiration to create an “unexclusive” partnership with Central Asian countries.

On one hand, through this phrase, the EU wants to prove to the leaders of Central Asian states that it understood their preference for multi-vectoral foreign policies, but at the same time shows that it is aware of the fact that a geopolitical balancing in the region is difficult. Therefore, the EU officially announces its involvement in the region also by opening up cooperation with third parties, including Russia and China, but also other neighbouring states, international organizations and with development banks in the region. The idea of an “unexclusive partnership” reflects the EU objective to establish synergies between Central Asia, the Eastern Partnership countries and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the EU wishes to signal that it does not want to enter a competition and geopolitical rivalry with Russia and China, and prefers to cooperate only where it is possible.

In conclusion, we can state that the EU is not naïve – it knows perfectly that, as a foreign player in the region, but with a strategic interest for Central Asia, it is caught in the geopolitical games which take place in the region. Its new strategy gives a positive signal for countries in the region, but also for Russia and China.

By establishing this “unexclusive partnership”, the EU is aiming to help develop the region and create a “more resilient economic and political space, more prosperous and tightly interconnected”. These aspects are, in fact, the new strategy’s main priorities. In attempting to promote the resiliency of states and societies in Central Asia and take over what the strategy calls an “ambitious agenda for prosperity”, the EU wishes to take over some niche fields which offers it advantages to the competition.


EUROPOL is developing its fighting means against human smuggling and trafficking

On July 2, 2019, Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, established the Joint Liaison Task Force Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Human Beings (JLT-MS). The new operational unit will concentrate on intelligence-led operations against criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling and human trafficking. The purpose of establishing this group is to grow the efficiency of operations carried out against human trafficking and smuggling networks, as well of financial investigation related to the illegal activities previously mentioned.

JLT-MS will be coordinated by Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC). Liaison officers in all EU member states and possible collaboration partners will collaborate to identify networks, set priorities, prepare and execute trans-border operations.

JLT-MS will grow the efficiency of the information support mechanism already available in the EMSC and will improve the direct contact, coordination and information exchange between the law enforcement authorities in the EU states and the two partner-states.



Estonia signs new weapons delivery contracts with the US

The Estonian Government is preparing to launch a new defence strategy in 2020, which will outline the Baltic nation’s strategic vision and its purchase priorities until 2030.

It is improbable that there will be any big surprises – Russia will remain the main potential threat and NATO its international security partner. In these conditions, Estonian armed forces are investing into American and Western fighting equipment to replace the Soviet ones that are still being used.

At the beginning of July, Estonia signed an agreement with the US-based Lewis Machine Tool Company from Iowa, for the delivery of 16,000 weapons to the Estonian Army starting with 2020. Through this contract, worth USD24 million, the Estonian armed forces will completely replace the Russian weapons used by its soldiers and policemen, as well as weapons purchased in the 90s from Israel. The weapons will be automatic, with 5.56 and 7.62 calibres and will be similar to those provided to SAS fight groups in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Estonia is one of the eight NATO countries which allot 2% of their GDP for the armed forces, according to Estonian Ambassador to the US Jonatan Vseviov. He added that approximately 40% of the USD670 million allotted for the armed forces is reserved for purchases. At the same time, Vseviov said that, in 2019, Estonia allotted 2.13% of its GDP for defence, with a planned 2.5% to be allotted in 2030.

Last year, Estonia bought 155mm howitzers from South Korean company Hanwha, together with 155mm munitions from Finland. At the same time, Estonia purchased a short-range anti-air defence system from France’s MDBA Missile Systems, for USD59 million. The Estonian Army also bought Javelin anti-tank systems from the US.

At the beginning of this year, Estonia received its final batch of CV-90 armoured troop carriers from the Netherlands (manufactured in Sweden).

Due to economical, but also demographic considerations, Estonia has concentrated on developing and equipping its land forces, without investing in its air forces or ships, but offered NATO the possibility to use its airports for air policing missions and hosted the BALTOPS 2019 drill, which also included the use of naval capabilities.


Bulgaria purchases eight F16 fighter jets

On Friday, July 19, 2019, the Bulgarian Parliament ratified the purchase of eight new F-16 fighter jets assembled by Lockheed Martin. At the same time, for this purchase, the Bulgarian institution approved an exceptional increase of the public deficit for the current year from 0.5% to 2.1%. This revision was necessary because the entire sum must for the purchase must be paid until the beginning of September 2019.

“By purchasing these F-16 Block 70 jets, we will be the first Balkan country equipped with such an aircraft”, as Slovenia, Greece and Romania have older models, said Bulgarian Defence Minister Krassimir Karakaceanov.

The aircrafts, which will be delivered until 2024, will be purchased for USD1.256 billion. Alongside the jets, the purchase contract includes other components such as: ten F110 General Electric engines, of which two are for spare parts, nine AN/APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array radars and various types of munitions.

Bulgaria has been trying for several years to replace its Soviet-produced MiG-29 fighter jets fleet. Of the 15 such planes owned by the Bulgarian air forces, only seven can carry out missions. Regarding this purchase, air forces commander Tanko Stoikov said that it is “the first modernization of Bulgarian air forces in the past 30 years”.

The Bulgarian government preferred the US offer to the Swedish one which proposed the delivery 10 new Gripen aircrafts. The Swedish offer was favoured in a previous auction and was supported by President Rumen Radev. The auction procedure was relaunched in 2017, after the instatement of conservative Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.

A former air force commander, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev stated that the price of the F-16 jets is too high, taking into account the fact that they do not include the entire necessary weaponry, especially air-to-ground missiles.

At the same time, the Bulgarian opposition criticized the purchase, arguing that the payment cannot be made in instalments, which puts additional pressure on this year’s budget, with effects for the following years.

Translated by Ionut Preda