Monday 26 March, 2018 Update: A Busy Monday Around the World

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The week is off to an active beginning on a host of fronts around the world. From London to Riyadh and further on to Beijing  geopolitical screws are turning, a diplomatic crisis is deepening, and the two year anniversary of a conflict has been marked in an explosive manner.

 

Russian Diplomats Face Being Expelled Across Europe and North America

Dozens of Russian diplomats will be expelled from European nations and the United States as the fallout from the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil continues to expand. Over twenty nations have sided with Great Britain, including the United States and many of its European allies. More than Russian 100 diplomats are being declared persona non grata and formally deported.  The consensus among Great Britain’s allies has been that Russia is responsible for the nerve-agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Russia denies any involvement in the matter and has called the latest expulsions a ‘provocative gesture.’ Moscow also vowed retaliation.

 

Speculation Places Kim Jong Un In Beijing

Rumors of a senior North Korean delegation, possibly led by Kim Jong Un, broke today when photos of a special North Korean train arriving in Beijing came to light. The train is one used in the past by North Korean leaders for travel around North Korea and beyond. Photos of the train in Beijing were provided by Japan’s Nippon Television. The train was reportedly met at the train station by an honor guard, and line of VIP automobiles.

If Kim is present in Beijing, the timing is interesting. North Korean and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet next week to prepare for a meeting between the leaders of both nations in the near future. Beyond that is the potential meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump that is in the works.

 

Houthi Ballistic Missiles Strike Saudi Arabia

On the second anniversary of the start of the Yemen war, Houthi rebels launched a volley of Iranian-manufactured ballistic missiles against four Saudi Arabian cities.  Missile trails, and spectacular explosions lit the night sky over the Saudi capital. Four missiles were intercepted over Riyadh. No vital targets were struck, according to Saudi officials, though one civilian was killed and a handful injured. Missiles were also launched at the southwestern cities of Khamis Mushait, Najran, and Jazan. No damage or casualties were reported there. If the Houthis were hoping for a propaganda victory from the attack they couldn’t be more wrong. The missile strike has been condemned around the world and serves as a shining example of why the Saudi war effort must be continued.

Tuesday 14 November, 2017 Update: Possible Coup Underway in Zimbabwe

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The rift between Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe and the nation’s military appears to be moving into a dangerous new stage. Unusual military activity including armored vehicles staked out at strategic points around the capital city of Harare is being reported. ZBC, the national broadcaster has been occupied by soldiers. Explosions have been heard across the city as well. The US and British embassies are advising their citizens in country to shelter in place while the uncertain political situation plays out. The embassies are playing it cautious with their descriptions of what is happening. However, for all intents and purposes, a coup attempt against Mugabe appears to be underway.

There has been speculation that a coup might be in the works. Mugabe’s ruling party accused one of the nation’s top military officers of ‘treasonable conduct.’ General Constantino Chiwenga had warned of possible military action after Mugabe dismissed Emmerson Mnangagwa, his vice president, last week after a flare up over succession. Mnangagwa was seen as the heir apparent to succeed Mugabe, but Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe has become the next in line. The rift between Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa has split the Zanu-PF party. Supporters of the vice president have been purged in recent weeks as Mugabe appears to be setting the stage for his wife’s rise to power.

As events in Zimbabwe continue to develop  in the coming hours and days I will provide updates.

 

Some Brief Thoughts On Brexit

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Whichever way the Brexit referendum goes, the European Union will have to contend with some very far-reaching aftereffects. The EU is deeply worried about how a Brexit will play out economically and politically. Over the past four weeks, EU officials and supporters of the European project have gone on the offensive in an effort to influence Britons that a Brexit would spell economic disaster for their country. The Pro-EU camp has used every weapon in its arsenal. The pleading, cajoling, warnings and even thinly-veiled threats have been constant and infused with apparent desperation. The clock is ticking and the outcome remains uncertain.

Whether or not Brexit goes through, the EU is going to take a hit. What is happening in Britain right now will inevitably inspire similar nationalistic movements in other European countries. These movements are already making headway politically. Recent polling has found a sharp rise in anti-EU sentiment in every member-state. The union is weak right now, hobbled by economic and political problems, many of which have been either created or exacerbated by EU decisions and policies. The refugee crisis and nearly disastrous Greece debt crisis are shining examples.

Come Friday morning, the EU will wake up to a new reality and new challenges. If Brexit passes, Brussels will likely orchestrate a circling of the wagons against a common enemy- Britain. It will work to make departure negotiations with Britain as miserable as possible. Not only as punishment but to help deter Euroskeptic groups from pushing for referendums in their own member nations. The objective will be to show that a departure from the EU is painful and not worth the effort.

On the other hand, if the EU remains intact on Friday morning, it will not be in a position to celebrate victory right away. The anti-EU sentiment is not going to evaporate overnight and the challenges facing the body are nowhere near being met. Come Friday, we will be able to discuss what comes next in greater detail, but for now, the European Union can do nothing but watch and wait.

 

Europe’s Voluntary Disarmament

 

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I miss the Cold War. Really, I do. It is far enough in the past now that one can look back wistfully at period from 1947 to 1991 and appreciate the simplicity of that conflict. The United States and her allies versus the Soviet Union and its (mostly captive) allies. Capitalism or Communism. Co-existence or conflict. Honestly, compared to the complexities of today’s geopolitical world, the Cold War seems like a pretty damn good time. Know who else probably misses the Cold War? Western European generals and defense ministers.

Gone are the heady days of plump (by European standards) defense budgets, capable forces and clarified missions. In its place is an era of austerity, ill-defined missions and threats, as well as indifference. The defense cuts have not been entirely unexpected given the current economic situation on the continent. That being said, the position that many European politicians and voters are taking towards their military forces is borderline reckless. Europe is voluntarily disarming itself.

The most striking example of European disarmament has been the drawdown of Britain’s Royal Navy. In spite of Great Britain’s historic position a major maritime power, over the years the Royal Navy has regularly fallen victim to budget slashing. The “Senior Service” has seen a broadening of its missions in recent years even as the surface fleet has been cut to one-third of its Cold War strength. The Royal Army and RAF are in similar shape.  Britain’s strategic reach has been shortened and it’s questionable whether or not the UK will be able to support the US militarily, as it has for decades, in the future.

Other major European powers like France and Germany are in similar positions. Budget cuts are currently having, or will have, a profound effect on readiness and force structure in the future. Smaller countries on the continent are not immune to the budget crunch either. Belgium and the Netherlands have stricken off their inventories of main battle tanks and replaced them with wheeled AFVs in the case of Belgium and Infantry Fighting Vehicles for the Netherlands.

The United States has shouldered the bulk of NATO military spending since the creation of the alliance. That should come as no great surprise to anybody. What is a surprise, and something of a concern, though, is the fact that in 2001 the US financed 63 percent of NATO military expenditures. Today, the number is closer to 75 percent. The financial crisis has stymied Europe’s defense expenditures and reduced its military capabilities. The situation is reaching a critical point. There will be a point in the not too distant future when America’s European allies can no longer be counted on to be practical military partners.

NATO’s intervention in Libya, although successful, did reveal weaknesses in Europe’s military capabilities. The US provided a great amount of support and without it, Gaddafi might still be around. Tomahawk missiles fired by US Navy ships decimated Libyan air defense sites, command and control facilities and airfields. Ammunition, airborne tankers, drones, fighter aircraft and intelligence was also contributed to the initial phase of the Libyan expedition. Without that help, it is doubtful if the European forces involved could have gone it alone. The same is true in Mali where USAF assistance has been crucial to the French mission in Mali

As the United States pivots towards Asia, European nations to ponder potential threats and missions and structure its militaries to meet the needs of the future. The US is encouraging Europe to tend more to its defense needs, and rightfully so. The European sphere of influence does not end at the Bosphorus, or the Straits of Gibraltar. It is essential that Europe stand ready to defend her interests abroad. The US might not be very willing or able to help when the next crisis begins. And it will eventually.