Ethiopia Unraveling

Several nations are ordering their non-essential embassy staff members and dependents out of Ethiopia as the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) move closer to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The United States has joined Israel, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark in removing non-essential personnel from Ethiopia. The order was given on Friday and the US State Department is also urging all US nationals to leave the country too. A number of other rebel groups have joined the TPLF, forming an anti-government alliance that looks to unseat Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power one year after he launched the offensive in Tigray that has ultimately led to this point. In November 2020 there were very few people who could even entertain the notion that Addis Ababa would be under TPLF threat twelve months later.

The government has declared a state of emergency that will allow conscription of any military-aged civilian with weapons. Veterans are also being asked to reenlist in the military. In Addis Ababa, police are searching houses to uncover potential Tigrayans who are connected, or sympathetic to the TPLF. How much good these measures will do with the enemy fast approaching the city remains to be seen.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders there have been a number of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. The Biden administration’s press for negotiations to end the fighting fell upon deaf ears, and so have the selective sanctions placed on some Ethiopian officials by the US government. The reluctance of both sides to turn to diplomacy has derailed efforts by the African Union to mediate an end to the fighting and bring about a cease-fire. Predictably, United Nation Security Council calls for on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness” are being ignored. The Security Council is also concerned with how this conflict will affect the stability of the region. The Horn of Africa has long been a hotbed of volatility. The prospect of the fighting leading to a division of Ethiopia similar to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s is beginning to make diplomats around the world uneasy.

EU Considering Additional Travel Restrictions

The European Union’s executive body is proposing additional travel restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus mutations and variants, and to maintain the movement of goods and workers across EU borders. The EU’s 27 member-states have been urged specifically to increase testing and quarantine steps for travelers as concerns about production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines have risen in recent days. The appearance of new variants that are more transmissible poses a risk to European hospitals, already struggling to contend with increasing numbers of new cases.

The new coronavirus variants have compelled many European nations to tighten their already extensive lockdown measures. France is considering the implementation of a third national lockdown if the 12-hour curfew now in place fails to stem the spread of new infections. Belgium has banned nonessential travel for its residents until March at the very least. Sweden has also barred travel from Norway in a move aimed at stopping the spread of new coronavirus variants.

Curtailing or banning nonessential travel is a difficult pill to swallow for the EU. It goes directly against the principle of free travel beyond national borders, a pillar of the Union. The virtues of free travel and unhindered movement have not stopped some national leaders on the continent from considering stricter measures. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that “no tourist travel should be taking place” as the German government weighed tougher measures.

Meanwhile, as travel restrictions are debated 400,000 EU citizens have already died from the virus since last February when COVID-19 made its first appearance in Europe.

Venezuelan Government and Opposition Hold Talks in Norway

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Representatives of the Nicolas Maduro regime, and the opposition led by Juan Guaido met today in Norway to conduct negotiations aimed at ending the political crisis, and economic struggle that have crippled Venezuela and pushed it to the edge of ruin. The talks are being held in Oslo and were brokered by a group of Norwegian government officials, and private citizens. Although the talks are a positive development, the two sides remain far apart on most issues. Guaido, and the opposition continue to insist Maduro was illegally elected last year and should step down until new elections are held. Maduro, for his part, regards Guaido as a US lackey who’s motivation is to seize power and turn Venezuela into a puppet-state controlled by Washington.

The opposition’s agreement to send a delegation to the negotiations suggests its current position has been weakened considerably by the failed military uprising orchestrated by Guaido and other opposition leaders last month. If progress is made in Norway, it could help the opposition regain at least some of the leverage it lost from the failed uprising. After the failed uprising, the government has increased pressure on Guaido and his allies. A number of high-ranking opposition leaders have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity, and charged with rebellion. Many of these men are now holed up in foreign embassies around Caracas, fearful of arrest if they leave.

Despite the government’s attempt at a crackdown, it cannot change the situation from the stalemate it is at current.  Maduro is receiving assistance from Cuba, China, and Russia, however, it is nowhere near the amount needed to bring Venezuela out of the economic and political cauldron it is in now. US sanctions are beginning to hurt more now, and another wave is coming soon. The negotiations in Norway offer the government an attempt to buy some time, but little more.

Are Western Navies Facing a Readiness Crisis?

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High-profile accidents involving warships from First-World nations since 2016 suggest the existence of a readiness crisis in Western navies. The ramming and sinking of the Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad by a commercial oil tanker earlier this month only highlights the fact that there is an issue. Maritime operations are dangerous, even in the best of times. Accidents happen, and sailors inevitably lose their lives. Yet the number of incidents that have taken place in the past twenty-four months suggest a deeper problem.

The readiness issue  has been smoldering for decades in most Western navies. In many cases it goes back to the end of the Cold War in 1991 when the dissolution of the Soviet Union consequently removed the predominant naval threat facing the navies of the West. Thus began a period of force downsizing, and budgetary restrictions. The Global War on Terror relieved some of these pressures temporarily. However, since Islamic terrorist groups, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq failed to mount a legitimate maritime threat, the navies of the United States and her allies have played secondary roles through the duration of the GWOT.

In truth, Western navies continue to move about aimlessly with no clear picture of what their goals need to be, or how to reach them. The main purpose of a navy is to fight and win a war at sea. Sadly, this is the mission that a frighteningly large number of Western navies appear ill-equipped to take on.

Since today is Thanksgiving, my intention was to keep this post limited to 300 words. This topic deserves more attention though. I’m going to come back to it a few times between now and Christmas and delve deeper into the naval readiness issue.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thursday 8 November, 2018 Update: Norwegian Frigate Rammed by Oil Tanker

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The Royal Norwegian Navy is having a bad day. The frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad was rammed by a Maltese-flagged oil tanker Sola TS,  in the pre-dawn hours. The collision took place as the tanker was departing the Sturte oil terminal which is located 50 km northwest of the Norwegian port city of Bergen. Ingstad was at anchor in the harbor, according to reports, when she was struck by the oil tanker. The initial damage was so severe that the frigate’s captain ordered the ship to be deliberately beached to prevent her from capsizing. The possibility of that happening was great enough for the captain to evacuate the crew from the ship. Seven sailors have been reported injured in the incident.

 

The cause of the accident remains unclear at the moment. The fate of the frigate is also unclear. Crews are working to assess the damage, and determine the next step. The Maltese tanker was not damaged and her crew sustained no injuries.

Ingstad is a Nansen-class frigate. The five ships in the class are the backbone of the Royal Norwegian Navy, and are capable warships. Ingstad was returning from participation in the NATO exercise Trident Juncture 18.

As more information becomes available, I will post it here, along with some thoughts about what this incident could mean for the Royal Norwegian Navy in the future.