Wednesday’s Brexit summit in Brussels ended with no tangible results offered by either the European Union or Great Britain. In fact, there was more than a hint of disappointment in the chamber when British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived with no new proposals. The only thing May offered were hints that Britain might extend the post-Brexit transition phase beyond the proposed 21 months in order to hammer out the details of a future trade relationship between the UK and EU that is amicable to both parties. In other words, London, and Brussels will require more time to make the impending divorce as friendly as possible.
Expectations had been high in the days leading up to the summit. Some observers even framed it as a ‘make or break’ moment for a Brexit deal. Instead, negotiations will continue on with no clear timeline for when it will be time to draft a deal. The transition phase is set to run from March, 2019 until December, 2020. During this period, the UK will continue to honor the rules of the single market, and customs union. It could be extended through the end of 2021 if necessary.
May is likely to deal with some backlash from her party if the transition phase is extended. To many Tory MPs, an extension would be akin to allowing Great Britain to remain in limbo until 2022. In exchange for an extension, Britain would receive nothing in return from the EU. The longer England remains tied to the European Union, the bleaker May’s political fortunes will become.
Attention is focused on Washington DC today as the world waits to see how the United States chooses to respond to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria on 7 April. This morning it was announced that President Trump will not be attending the Summit of the Americas in Peru, or traveling to Bogota, Columbia afterwards as planned. Instead, the president will remain in Washington to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world” according to the White House. This recent development has increased speculation that US military action could be coming soon. Reports that Trump has been in consultation with London and Paris suggest a broader Western military response is possible as well.
In fact, the possibility of British involvement at the very least is growing. A short time ago I spoke to an associate of mine who lives a short distance away from RAF Akrotri, the British airbase on Cyprus. He verified that the level of activity there has increased over the past few hours and shows no sign of dropping off. Right now I am trying to obtain more information from him. If I do, I will pass it along.
On the military front, numerous reports surfaced yesterday that the destroyer USS Donald Cook was moving into waters near Syria, and Russian aircraft were conducting low level flights nearby. The Pentagon denied the reports and they were never confirmed by any major independent media outlets. If Cook is in the vicinity of Syria it makes sense for Russian aircraft to harass any potential TLAM shooters, and keep a close eye on them as the situation unfolds. It should also be noted that given the range of the TLAM, Cook does not have to be anywhere close to the Syrian coastline. She could launch cruise missiles from practically anywhere in the Mediterranean. However, given political considerations and such, it does make sense to volley TLAMs as close to Syria as the situation allows.
It is mid-afternoon here in the eastern United States and there is much happening with regards to Syria from Washington to Europe, and the Med. I’ll try and post another update early in the evening and offer some thoughts about if or when military action against the Syrian government might begin.
Western leaders have accused Russia of being responsible for being behind the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter at their home in the United Kingdom. In a rare, yet encouraging show of unity, the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom released a joint statement condemning the attack and calling upon Russia to live up to uphold peace and security. The statement was released one day after Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the nerve agent attack. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov labeled the allegations as ‘unacceptable.’ Moscow is expected to respond by ordering the expulsion of British diplomats from Russia in the coming days. Putin will possibly go beyond that and attempt to prod Britain in another way. Do not be surprised to hear about increased Russian air activity in close proximity to the British Isles over the coming days. Business might be about to pick up for the RAF Typhoons on QRA.
Author’s Note: Apologies for the shortness of this update. Scheduling conflicts have minimized the time I have available to write today.
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.
Earlier this week media outlets in the United Kingdom reported that the British armed services have been asked to draw up contingency plans for UK involvement in a future conflict between the United States and North Korea. Given closeness of the relationship between the US and Great Britain, the drafting of these plans comes as no surprise. It is generally assumed that there will be some level of British involvement in a US effort against North Korea. Judging from the tone of some reports coming out of Whitehall, however, British planners are preparing for the possibility of large scale military involvement in the Western Pacific should a situation call for it.
The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, disclosed that plans involve a possible deployment by HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s newest carrier, even before she has undergone flight trials. At current, Britain does not even have enough F-35s or qualified pilots to fit out an air wing for the carrier, calling into question the feasibility of this particular plan. In an emergency situation, US Marine Corps F-35s could cross-deck to the Queen Elizabeth and operate from her, though it is questionable how plausible this scenario would be in a wartime situation.
For that matter, the soundness of Britain staging a major deployment of military forces to the Pacific is up for debate. British defense spending had been cut to the bone over the last fifteen years as most of the funding went to supporting Britain’s commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were scarce pounds left to invest in new aircraft, ships, and other conventional weapons for a time. The Ministry of Defense adopted the watchword of ‘Cut! Cut! Cut!’ for an extended period of time. As a result, the Royal Navy and RAF are shells of their former selves. Of the 77 commissioned ships in the Royal Navy currently, only 19 of these are major surface combatants. The RAF is in no better condition with regular deployments to Afghanistan, and other commitments vital to national interests tying up the majority of combat airframes.
Britain’s Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has spoken lately of the need to increase British spending. In light of the current world situation this is sensible talk, however, any attempt to increase spending will be undoubtedly spark a major row with Labor. Given the current state of British politics there is no telling what the end result might be. At any rate, Britain has to take a long, hard look at the condition of its military before considering its involvement in a potential future conflict.
For the moment it is safe to say that the question is not how many British troops, aircraft, or ships can be committed to a US effort against North Korea. The real question is whether there will be any available to commit at all.