Europe approves military HQ

European Union leaders approved the creation of a military headquarters on March 6. The Military Planning and Conduct Capability will allow the EU to run joint military operations abroad, the first such joint command in EU history. Deutsche Welle called it “a military headquarters—in everything but name” (March 7).

Under the current plan, the headquarters will be limited to managing training missions—including those currently underway in Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic.

But EU leaders have said this is only the beginning. EU foreign-policy chief Frederica Mogherini said, “We are progressing steadily toward strengthened defense cooperation, and we will continue to do more.”

“It’s a first step,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, adding, “A European army, maybe later.” EU Observer said some regard this headquarters as “the nucleus of a future European army” (March 6).

The EU already plans to review the headquarters next year, when it may extend its authorization to include commanding combat missions.

Following Britain’s vote to leave the Union last summer, the EU officially launched its European Border and Coast Guard Agency in October, a new fund for European defense research in November, and now has established its own military command center.

Each of these steps is almost laughably small: a border and coast guard with only 1,500 personnel, a defense research fund of only $27 million, a military command that cannot conduct combat missions. The tiny size of these initiatives made it possible for EU nations to agree to them. But these fundamental principles have been established, and it will be much easier to expand the border and coast guard, the research budget and the command center’s authorization than it was to create them in the first place.

In 1978, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “The Europeans are far more disturbed about their safety in relying on United States military power to protect them than Americans realize! The United States is not loved in Europe. European confidence in U.S. protection against their next-door Communist neighbor has been lessening and lessening.

“Europeans want their own united military power! They know that a political union of Europe would produce a third major world power, as strong as either the U.S. or the ussrpossibly stronger!” (Good News, Aug. 28, 1978).

Watch Europe’s military initiatives and see whether they remain insignificantly tiny, or whether they expand and allow Europe to grow into a superpower.

China now Germany’s top trading partner

Data released in February reveals that China overtook the United States in 2016 to become Germany’s new top trading partner. The U.S. fell to third place, behind France. Reuters reported, “The development is good news for the German government, which has made it a goal to safeguard global free trade after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imports and his top adviser on trade accused Germany of exploiting a weak euro to boost exports” (February 24).

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel proposed that if the new U.S. government engages in protectionism as promised, the European Union should realign its economic policies toward the Asian supercontinent. The head of Germany’s bga trade association, Anton Börner, echoed Gabriel’s sentiments by stating that, “given the protectionist plans of the new U.S. president, one would expect that the trade ties between Germany and China will be further strengthened.”

President Trump heavily criticized China’s trade and economic manipulation throughout his presidential campaign, often stating that “China is killing us” on trade. Trump has already canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (tpp), a trade deal designed to contain China. But now it looks as though the remaining tpp countries could actually continue the partnership and replace the U.S. with China.

Doing business with a powerful Asian trading bloc looks very tantalizing to the German-led EU. Trade between Europe and Asia already exceeds transatlantic trade. This commerce will only increase as China and other nations continue massive new construction of roads, railways, pipelines and other infrastructure along the Silk Road that ties together the powerful economies of Eurasia.

Is Hamas reinventing itself?

Hamas is planning to alter its charter. Some observers say the proposed changes renew hope for peace between the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group and Israel.

London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on the amendments to the 29-year-old document on March 7, about a month before their scheduled released. Three of the more dramatic changes to the charter decree that: 1) Hamas endorses a Palestinian state with 1967 borders; 2) Hamas officially breaks with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB); and 3) Hamas is no longer anti-Semitic.

Previously, Hamas viewed any acceptance of the 1967 boundaries as tacit recognition of the State of Israel. Now, Hamas apparently will accept those boundaries, though still without officially recognizing Israel. This amendment is likely designed to match the December 2016 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which outlaws all Jews living outside the 1967 borders.

Hamas was founded in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of Egypt’s MB. Since Iran took over as Hamas’s main sponsor in the early 2000s, however, the group’s connection to the Brotherhood has weakened. Hamas insists it will continue resisting Israel, but separating from the MB could still improve its own international reputation.

Hamas also reportedly intends to expunge from its charter its anti-Semitic tirades claiming that the Jews caused both world wars and other injustices against humanity. Asharq al-Awsat’s Hamas source said the new charter “strictly defines animosity against occupying forces, and not Jews in an attempt to shake off accusations of anti-Semitism.”

These changes may improve Hamas’s image, but they don’t spring from a sudden change of heart. For one, in February, Hamas appointed a new leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who is a literal killer. For another, this group has spent three decades recruiting, grooming, funding, arming, glorifying and rewarding the families of terrorists who have murdered Israelis. These changes are designed to gather political and financial support, which may enable Hamas to defeat its Palestinian rival, Fatah, and strengthen its position against Israel until the time comes to turn up the terror again.

Japan’s bold show of military force

Authorities in Tokyo said on March 14 that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force will send its largest warship, the Izumo helicopter carrier, on a three-month tour through the South China Sea. Japan’s largest show of military force since World War ii, the move marks a major step toward Tokyo’s remilitarization.

China claims nearly all of the vast, resource-rich South China Sea, through which passes one third of the world’s maritime trade. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim portions of the sea. Recent Chinese island-building and vessel movement in the region have posed a major challenge to the rules-based global order.

Japan has no claims to the South China Sea, but is entangled in separate territorial disputes with China over parts of the East China Sea. Tokyo’s decision to dispatch the 817-foot Izumo shows that Japan supports the tougher stance the United States is taking toward China under President Donald Trump. It also suggests that Japan may seek to establish its own military presence in the South China Sea.

Since Article 9 in Japan’s Constitution bans the country from acquiring offensive weapons, Tokyo labels the $1.2 billion Izumo as a destroyer, a class of vessel that typically cannot project offensive power. But this label is misleading. The Center for International Maritime Security says the Izumo has “inherently offensive capability” that runs “counter to the values espoused in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.” The warship shows how powerful Japan’s military could be, and the decision to sail it through the South China Sea represents how boldly Japanese leaders could wield such a force.

Will Iran get nukes from North Korea?

“Iran is steadily making progress towards a nuclear weapon and is doing so via North Korea.” This was the assessment of two nuclear experts in a paper published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies on February 28. Dr. Rafael Ofek and Dr. Dany Shoham say Iranian leaders circumvented the nuclear deal implemented on Jan. 16, 2016, by outsourcing work to North Korea.

This nuclear partnership began in the 1990s. The paper says collaboration intensified in 2012 when U.S. President Barack Obama began trying to coax Iran into signing a nuclear compromise. Iranian scientists and technicians were often present at North Korea’s nuclear tests between 2013 and 2016. Numerous North Korean delegations also visited Iran’s nuclear and ballistic facilities; the last visit coming one month before the nuclear deal was agreed to in June 2015.

The paper says Iran signed a formal agreement with North Korea just two months after the Obama administration secretly offered to open a direct channel of communication with Iran. The Obama administration reportedly permitted planes from North Korea to fly directly to Iran without having to stop for nuclear proliferation inspections.

The paper said the similarities between the two countries’ weapons programs belie a great deal of “undisclosed interaction between Tehran and Pyongyang.”

Editor in chief Gerald Flurry asked in the April 2016 Trumpet issue, “Why were Iranian officials present for North Korea’s illegal nuclear weapons tests? Are the Iranians outsourcing their nuclear program, or at least parts of their nuclear bombs?”

Russia Assimilating South Ossetian Forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed his government on March 14 to finalize a deal to absorb the military forces of another country. The order establishes Russian military command over the military in South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia. The alarming move represents a major development in Putin’s quest to reconstruct the Soviet empire.

Officially, South Ossetia is part of Georgia, a nation formerly part of the Soviet bloc. But in 1992, shortly after the Soviet Union’s collapse and after several eruptions of violence, the region declared independence. For over a decade, South Ossetia existed as a semiautonomous region in a state of general peace with the rest of Georgia. But in 2004, the Georgian government launched efforts to regain control of the region, and conflicts between Georgian soldiers and South Ossetian separatists began to increase. Tension climaxed in 2008, when Georgia waged a resolute ground and air assault. Putin responded by invading Georgia and pushing Georgian soldiers out of South Ossetia and out of Abkhazia, Georgia’s other pro-Russian breakaway region.

After the invasion, Putin recognized the independence of both regions and asserted de facto control over them.

Georgia, along with the United States and the European Union, labeled the Russian move an illegal land grab. Georgia continues to insist that both regions are Georgian territory, a view which international law supports. But such claims mean less and less as Russia asserts more real-world control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia attempts assassination in Montenegro

On February 18, the world was reminded of just how deadly Russia’s resolve can be. That day, revelations emerged that Moscow had planned to stop Montenegro from joining nato by assassinating its pro-Western prime minister, Milo Djukanovic.

The assassination was to take place on Oct. 16, 2016, the day Montenegro held parliamentary elections. The conspirators planned to open fire on a crowd at Montenegro’s parliament building as election results were announced. In the ensuing mayhem, other plotters would enter the building and assassinate Djukanovic.

The Telegraph reported on February 18 that intelligence officials had confirmed who was behind the plot: “Russian intelligence officers with backing from Moscow.”

nato officials confirmed that two Russian intelligence officers had spent months in Montenegro recruiting and arming some 20 Serbian nationalists to carry out the attack. Thanks to a tip from a plotter-turned-informant, Montenegrin authorities foiled the plan just hours before it was to take place.

Had the plan succeeded, authorities believe it would have tipped the Balkan nation into civil war. The chaos would have given Moscow an opportunity to install a pro-Russia government, wrecking Montenegro’s hopes of joining nato this summer and of joining the European Union in the early 2020s.

Russia denies involvement, but Montenegrin Defense Minister Predrag Bosković said the evidence his ministry has gathered confirms the assessments of nato and British officials: “There is not any doubt that it was financed and organized from different sources or different parts of Russian intelligence, together with some Montenegrin opposition parties, but also under the strong influence of some radicals from Serbia and Russia.”

South Africa proposes forced land redistribution

South African President Jacob Zuma has endorsed the possible confiscation of white-owned lands without compensation, breaking with two decades of post-apartheid precedent.

“We have identified the weaknesses in the land restitution and redistribution program,” he said on March 3. “The ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ principle did not work effectively.”

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the South African government has sought to buy land from willing sellers and redistribute it to black settlers. Now Zuma is proposing a “pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation patterns.” After the audit, he wants the South African Constitution to be amended to allow forced land confiscation without compensation.

Zuma is considering this scheme as popular support for his political party, the African National Congress, is at its lowest level since 1994. Many members have left the party to join the Economic Freedom Fighters, a Marxist party founded in 2013 on a pledge to nationalize banks and redistribute land. Zuma’s new populist tone is reportedly an attempt to win back members who have defected to other parties.

When Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government began to forcibly seize white-owned land without compensation in 2000, some 4,000 white farming families were evicted from their homes. Dozens of farmers were murdered in a move that cost Zimbabwe billions of dollars in lost agricultural production.