Europe marches toward a military
European Union plans for uniting member countries’ militaries have been little more than hopes and schemes—until now.
On Nov. 14, 2016, EU defense and foreign ministers agreed on concrete steps that will significantly increase cooperation among European militaries. The European Commission announced further plans on November 30 for the EU to jointly boost spending and research new technologies.
This outline is not an overt plan for an EU army but is a specific, practical approach for eventually achieving just that.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said November 10, “[W]e can only succeed in providing security to our citizens if we work together as a true Union, with the full potential of a superpower, in the field of security and defense.”
“It’s more than just ‘blah, blah, blah,’” an unnamed EU diplomat said, according to the EU Observer. “There’s a new level of political ambition and a document with concrete tasks and a detailed timetable for implementation” (Nov. 15, 2016).
The EU will now create a limited military headquarters. It will command training missions and logistics, but military missions will still be run by national governments. Italy’s foreign minister said this was “not yet a European general staff” but was intended to become one. The EU will also establish a European Medical Command.
This compromise sums up the progress the EU made in November. A military headquarters unauthorized to head military missions is absurd, but this step is all EU nations can agree on—for now. Once it is operational, it will be a small matter to make good use of the investment and authorize it to do what it was built to do: command and control European military missions.
The defense and foreign ministers also agreed that the EU needed joint military forces that can be sent to “situations of high security risk in the regions surrounding the EU.”
“EU battle groups have existed for 10 years but have never seen action, in part, because participating states never wanted to foot the bill,” wrote the EU Observer (ibid). The ministers took some major steps toward changing that.
Under the new plan, these groups will be funded from the EU’s budget. The ministers also agreed that EU nations should not be penalized as firmly if extra defense spending takes them into debt.
On November 30, the European Commission proposed further steps toward spreading this cost around. The EU would spend about $100 million per year on research, increasing up to $500 million after 2020. EU institutions, including the European Parliament, would have a say on how this money is spent.
EU members would also spend $5.8 billion on new jointly shared equipment. This money would be put up by individual nations rather than from the EU’s budget. EU budgetary rules on national debt would not apply to any money borrowed to finance this spending.
The Commission argues that EU nations waste $27 billion to $107 billion by not working together.
These practical steps toward a European military are being supported by the United States. Washington officials praised the increased spending proposed on November 30.
Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president is also accelerating Europe’s push for a military. European leaders and thinkers, such as Munich Security Conference chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, have voiced hope that “Trump shock” has “dramatically grown” Europe’s willingness to arm itself.
Finally, Britain’s exit from the EU is also removing a major block on EU spending. The push toward an EU military is accelerating like never before.
Angela Merkel plans to ban the burka
Germany’s chancellor announced on Dec. 6, 2016, that she wanted Germany to ban the burka, the Muslim full-face covering. “The full-face veil is not acceptable in our country,” Angela Merkel said at the Christian Democratic Union’s convention, to great applause. “It should be banned wherever it is legally possible.” The ban will probably apply to schools, government buildings and when driving.
This is a revolutionary step: the moment Germany joins Europe’s cultural clash with Islam.
Merkel, who has defined her chancellorship with an unpopular decision to open Germany’s borders to migrants from the Middle East, is now taking a step that few European countries have made.
Thus far, Germany has fought terrorism by focusing on individual terrorists, raiding houses, and cracking down on incitement to violence. The burka ban is the first time it has targeted a cultural symbol of a more radical and repressive strain of Islam. Germany is starting to accept that it is involved in a clash with a religious movement, not just a few individuals.
Europe, especially Germany, continues to build toward a clash with radical Islam.
Crisis looming in Algeria
Algeria “will probably implode” if 79-year-old, wheelchair-bound President Abdelaziz Bouteflika dies. That was the somber assessment of journalist Stephen Pollard on December 3, in his article “How Algeria Could Destroy the EU.”
“The Islamists who have been kept at bay by his iron hand will exploit the vacuum,” wrote Pollard. “Tensions that have been buried since the civil war will reemerge. And then Europe could be overwhelmed by another great wave of refugees from North Africa” (Spectator).
Algeria has a troubled history of conflict and terrorism. The nation’s “black decade,” the civil war of 1991 to 2002, killed over 150,000 people and internally displaced more than a million.
Bouteflika helped end that war when he became president in 1999. But even his strong-arm polices have not fully pacified Algeria.
One of the worst incidents came on Jan. 16, 2013, when Islamists seized a natural gas facility in eastern Algeria; 39 foreign workers and 29 terrorists were killed. The Algerian government said some of the attackers had come from Egypt and had even participated in the 2012 assault on America’s embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Watch Algeria for signs of further destabilization. Both Europe and radical Islam are undoubtedly preparing for the end of Bouteflika’s reign. Algeria may yet become a pivotal battleground between these two powers.
Egypt shifts toward Iran
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been close allies, but there are indications that the strategic alliance is breaking down.
In April, Saudi Arabia promised to provide Egypt with 700,000 tons of refined oil products per month for five years. But the cooperation was undermined in early October, when Egypt voted for a United Nations draft resolution implicitly backing Russia’s decision to bomb Syrian rebel groups, essentially siding with Russia and Iran in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Saudi Arabia opposed the UN resolution and criticized Egypt for supporting it. In October, Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, halted indefinitely all shipments of refined oil products to Egypt.
Weeks later, reports emerged that Egyptian Oil Minister Tarek al-Molla had made a low-profile visit to Iran to discuss alternative oil sources. An anonymous source inside Egypt’s government told the New Arab website that through Russian-Iranian intervention, Iraq had agreed to cover Egypt’s oil needs.
Al-Monitor reported that oil is bringing Iraq and Egypt closer together. “Iraq, which is … not on good terms with Saudi Arabia, wants to invest in the crisis between Riyadh and Cairo and give Egypt a chance to prevent its economic conditions from deteriorating now that its former ally, Saudi Arabia, is out of the picture,” it wrote. “Thus, Iraq gains an important Arab country like Egypt and benefits from Saudi Arabia’s loss of such an important Arab ally” (Oct. 26, 2016).
But Iraq’s gain is also Iran’s gain. Al-Monitor added: “Some Arab media outlets said the Iraqi-Egyptian rapprochement was provoking Saudi Arabia, given Iraq’s submission to Iran. …
“Now Tehran insists on the necessity of Cairo taking part in the Lausanne talks on Syria to win the largest number of supporters and for Egypt to join the Iranian alliances on the Syrian crisis.
“Iraq is certainly not going to be the sole beneficiary of supplying Egypt with oil; in addition to Cairo, Tehran may be the biggest beneficiary since it needs to strengthen its Arab alliances against Saudi Arabia ….”
If the Egypt-Saudi alliance is on the way out—and a new Egypt-Iran alliance on the way in—this could mean a seismic shift in the balance of power in the Middle East toward Iran.
Iran’s victory in Lebanon’s election
On November 7, one week after Lebanon’s presidential election, newly appointed President Michel Aoun held his first meeting with a foreign minister: Javad Zarif of Iran. The visit appeared to underscore the importance of the Iranian-Lebanese alliance and the close bond between the fledgling president and his Iranian allies.
Aoun is a Christian, but he is also a close ally of Iran, its proxy terrorist group Hezbollah and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
Lebanon’s unwritten laws require the president to be a Christian, the prime minister to be a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament to be a Shiite. Such guidelines have hampered Shiite Iran’s influence in Lebanon by curtailing Hezbollah’s political rise. The election of Aoun promotes a close friend of Hezbollah to the nation’s highest office.
As a former general, Aoun holds great sway over the Lebanese military. For Assad, this means a relatively safe border to his west, as well as more pressure on Sunni rebels who travel between the two nations. But the ultimate winner is Iran.
Japan’s soldiers authorized to use force
A contingent of 130 Japanese soldiers arrived in South Sudan on November 21, marking the first time Japan has deployed armed troops overseas since the end of World War
The Self-Defense Force (SDF) soldiers joined United Nations peacekeepers, whose main task is to construct infrastructure damaged in the civil war that has raged since December 2013. But due to pivotal new legislation Japan passed back in September 2015, these
Deutsche Welle reported, “
Since Shinzō Abe became Japan’s prime minister in 2012, he has pushed for the nation’s military to take on a greater role. This deployment represents a major victory toward that end. Tim Kelly, Reuters’s Tokyo defense and security correspondent, said, “For Japan, it actually represents a very, very big step and a very major stride away from those seven decades of pacifism” (Nov. 22, 2016).
Royal Navy: soon obsolete?
The navy that brought the world the aircraft carrier with no planes is about to reach a new level of absurdity. The Royal Navy will become the navy with no missiles, meaning it could soon be beaten by every significant navy on the planet, and perhaps even by 100-year-old ships.
The Ministry of Defense recently admitted that the British Navy would be withdrawing its Harpoon antiship missile in 2018, and it has no replacement lined up.
A navy with no missiles is every bit as useless as it sounds. The navy’s other antiship missile, the helicopter-launched Sea Skua missile, will be leaving service next year. Without these, the British Navy will be able to engage other ships only with 4.5-inch guns.
The Harpoon missiles have a range of 80 miles; the guns have a range of only 17. Royal Navy ships would retain defense capabilities such as air defense missiles, but other ships would be able to attack Britain’s warships long before the Royal Navy’s guns came within range.
The Register noted that in the late 19th century, Royal Navy (RN) ships had bigger guns than those in use now: “After 2018, the RN’s front-line warships would be hopelessly outgunned by century-old designs. … British naval credibility will vanish down the toilet—and in the modern world where actually firing at another state’s ship could provoke a full-blown war, it is credibility and implied threat that matters most.” If a war did break out in 2018 and Royal Navy ships survived the opening salvo, they would have to leave their patrols, sail back to port, and be refitted with Harpoons.
“Against any competent navy in a ship vs. ship fight, the Royal Navy is in for a humiliating defeat,” wrote Popular Mechanics (Nov. 16, 2016). Naval sources told the Telegraph that the decision was “like Nelson deciding to get rid of his cannons and go back to muskets.”
China furious at Trump
Beijing voiced its anger on December 12 over United States President-elect Donald Trump saying a day earlier that the U.S. would not necessarily be bound by the one-China policy.
The policy acknowledges China’s view that Taiwan is not an independent, sovereign, democratic nation but is instead a breakaway province of Communist China that will eventually be reincorporated under mainland rule. Since 1979, the policy has underpinned ties between Washington and Beijing, allowing the U.S. only a nonofficial relationship with Taiwan.
Mr. Trump suggested that he may wish to use the policy as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-China relationship. “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News, mentioning China’s currency manipulation, trade tariffs, military buildup in the South China Sea, and relationship with North Korea as areas where Beijing may need to make concessions.
The statements came just nine days after Mr. Trump had angered China by accepting a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, marking the first contact between an American president or president-elect and a Taiwanese leader since 1979.
China’s state-run Global Times said China would have no motivation to “put peace above using force to take back Taiwan.” There is a need for Beijing “to launch a resolute struggle with him [Mr. Trump],” the paper said. “Only after he’s hit some obstacles and truly understands that China and the rest of the world are not to be bullied will he gain some perception. [I]n the field of diplomacy, he is as ignorant as a child.”