Trump may really not know how NATO works

Ishaan Tharoor writes: More than two months into his tenure in office, Trump still doesn’t seem to understand how NATO works.

Trump’s ambivalence about the West’s preeminent military alliance is well known. Before entering the White House, he declared NATO “obsolete” and cast doubt on U.S. military commitments to its traditional partners in Europe.

In the interview with [Time magazine’s Michael] Scherer, Trump first insisted the alliance “doesn’t cover terrorism,” then took credit for having “fixed that.” This is false on both counts. Ever since the attacks on 9/11, counterterrorism operations have been NATO’s main preoccupation. The deployment of coalition forces to Afghanistan was the largest military mission in NATO’s history. The alliance had a counterterrorism desk decades before Trump started grumbling. [Continue reading…]

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Russia, an alleged coup and Montenegro’s bid for NATO membership

By Vesko Garcevic, Boston University

Testifying before a congressional committee, FBI Director James Comey has confirmed that his agency is investigating links between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia. The Conversation

While this investigation continues, Americans should be reminded of the signs of Russian interference in democratic processes outside the U.S. – specifically, in the Balkans.

Small but strategic

Recently, British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed concern over Moscow’s apparent involvement in an attempted coup in my home country.

From 2010 to 2015, I was the ambassador to NATO from Montenegro, a young democracy in southeast Europe that is part of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro was targeted by an apparent coup attempt during its last parliamentary election on Oct. 16, 2016. While Russia has denied involvement, details of the plot shared by a Serbian man arrested at the scene point to what The New York Times called “Russian efforts to sow mayhem.”

Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor has alleged the involvement of two Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU) agents, Vladimir Popov and Eduard Shirokov. The GRU is the same organization sanctioned by the Obama administration for hacking the Democratic National Committee offices. Shirolov, who has also gone by the name Shishmakov, was posted as the assistant military attache at the Russian Embassy in Poland until 2014 – when Poland threw him out of the country for spying.

[Read more…]

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Germany rejects Trump’s claim it owes NATO and U.S. ‘vast sums’ for defense

The New York Times reports: President Trump criticized Germany on Saturday for paying too little to both NATO and the United States for security support, a day after he held a chilly meeting at the White House with Chancellor Angela Merkel that showcased the two leaders’ disagreements.

“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” Mr. Trump wrote in a post on Twitter as he began his weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

“Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” he continued.

The message was misleading because no nation actually “owes” money to NATO; its direct funding is calculated through a formula and paid by each of the 28 nations that are members.

Mr. Trump may have been referring to the fact that Germany, like most NATO countries, falls short of the alliance’s guideline that each member should allocate 2 percent of its gross domestic product to military spending, but that money is not intended to be paid to NATO or to the United States. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that Germany owes NATO and the United States “vast sums” of money for defense.

“There is no debt account at NATO,” von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that it was wrong to link the alliance’s target for members to spend 2 percent of their economic output on defense by 2024 solely to NATO.

“Defense spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism,” von der Leyen said.

She said everyone wanted the burden to be shared fairly and for that to happen it was necessary to have a “modern security concept” that included a modern NATO but also a European defense union and investment in the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

The way Trump talks about NATO suggests he has the wrong model in his mind. He seems to view the international organization as an American-run club who members pay fees in order to enjoy services provided by the U.S., but it doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps Trump’s suspicions about getting “ripped off” are further reinforced by the fact that this club (for which the U.S. in reality only pays 22% of the organizational operating costs) is based in Brussels and led by a Norwegian.

For more details on NATO funding, it’s worth reading NATO’s own explanation. If Trump had the slightest interest in educating himself — he clearly doesn’t — he could learn a lot simply by reallocating 30 minutes of his time away from Fox News to Nato.int. On funding, the site even includes a Trump-friendly summary of “highlights” reduced to six bullet points.

(Just in case Trump and the other conspiracy theorists in the White House are perplexed by NATO’s logo which shows “NATO” and beneath that those letters in reverse, OTAN is not a secret code — it stands for Organisation du Traité de l’Atlantique Nord (NATO in French).)

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John McCain: Rand Paul ‘is now working for Vladimir Putin’

The Daily Beast reports: The long-simmering war between Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul boiled over on Wednesday when the Arizona lawmaker directly accused his colleague of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While speaking from the Senate floor in support of a bill advancing Montenegro’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), McCain noted objection from his Kentucky colleague, saying that if you oppose the measure, “You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin… trying to dismember this small country which has already been the subject an attempted coup.”

McCain continued: “If they object, they are now carrying out the desires and ambitions of Vladimir Putin and I do not say that lightly.”

Several moments later, after the 80-year-old senator asked for unanimous consent to move the bill forward, Paul took the mic to raise his objection before dramatically exiting the room.

In response, McCain began railing against Paul, his voice trembling with anger: “I note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale for the action he has just taken. That is really remarkable, that a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number—perhaps 98, at least, of his colleagues—would come to the floor and object and walk away.”

He then directly connected Paul to the Russian government: “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians.

“So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” [Continue reading…]

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New evidence links the Kremlin to efforts to destabilize Montenegro and slow its path to NATO

John R. Schindler writes: For Vladimir Putin, NATO expansion is a major bugbear and any chance Russia gets to thwart further expansion of the Atlantic Alliance is an opportunity not to be missed. Not to mention that the breakup of Yugoslavia — which the Russian leader has repeatedly held up as an example of what Western governments do to smaller Slavic states — is viewed with shame in the Kremlin. Here, too, Putin wants payback.

Just how serious Moscow is about Montenegro was revealed in a sinister plot that was unmasked last fall, shortly before its execution. In mid-October, Montenegrin authorities arrested some 20 people, most of them citizens of neighboring Serbia, for conspiring to overthrow the government in Podgorica and assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, the wily politician who ruled Montenegro from 1991 until 2016. Soon it emerged that the plot ringleaders were two Russian nationalists. While Montenegrin officials were careful not to point fingers directly at the Kremlin, questions lingered about what really happened.

The two Russians were quickly expelled from the country. That several of the Serbs and Montenegrins who were arrested for their role in the plot had served with Russian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine — where Moscow’s proxy war has included the use of foreign mercenaries, including Slavic nationalists from Eastern Europe — appeared to be more than a coincidence. Security services in the Balkans and beyond suspected that Russian intelligence was the hidden hand behind the plot, which seemed plausible given the large amounts of cash and the late-model communications gear found in the possession of the coup plotters.

That said, hard evidence of Moscow’s role didn’t appear immediately. While the Kremlin unquestionably wanted to dissuade Montenegro from joining NATO, assaulting the parliament in Podgorica and assassinating the prime minister to install a pro-Russian government seemed like outrageous behavior, even for Putin’s Kremlin — which is hardly squeamish about employing what Russian spies term wetwork against their enemies abroad.

Now, however, there is solid evidence that the Kremlin was directly behind the plot against Montenegro. [Continue reading…]

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Russia plotted to overthrow Montenegro’s government by assassinating PM Djukanovic last year, according to senior British govt. sources

The Telegraph reports: Russia plotted to assassinate the prime minister of a European nation and overthrow its government last year, according to senior Whitehall sources.

An election day coup plot to attack Montenegro’s parliament and kill the pro-Western leader was directed by Russian intelligence officers with the support and blessing of Moscow, to sabotage the country’s plan to join Nato.

The plot was foiled only hours before it was due to be carried out, but would have caused heavy bloodshed and plunged the tiny country into turmoil on the eve of becoming Nato’s 29th member.

The allegation came as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, criticised Nato as a “Cold War institution” whose expansion had led to unprecedented tensions in Europe over the past 30 years.

The planned Montenegro coup, scheduled for Oct 16 last year, was one of the most blatant recent examples of an increasingly aggressive campaign of interference in Western affairs, Whitehall sources told the Telegraph.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, are understood to have discussed the issue last week at their first face-to-face meeting. [Continue reading…]

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John McCain on the survival of the West

 

Many of those of us who have an interest in and experience of living in non-Western cultures have a distaste for what can sound like sanctimonious and domineering claims about Western superiority.

What is superior about a civilization that built its strength through subjugating others? The failings of the West are easy enough to discern from a passing glance over world history.

Nevertheless, the value of open societies is currently being undermined from within, not by people who are promoting better alternatives but on the contrary mostly by those whose cynicism has festered deep within the only societies they have ever known.

To be concerned about the future of Western democracies does not require overlooking their failings but simply recognizing that if they fail, what will follow will without doubt be much worse.

This isn’t a matter of conjecture. Look at the Middle East and the effects of the withdrawal of American power. This hasn’t opened the doors to self-determination. It has instead led to an ongoing and very bloody power struggle between competing autocratic powers.

What the retreat of the West facilitates both outside and inside the West is the rise of nationalism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia.

When Western power can be superseded by something better — something that better reflects global diversity — then it will indeed be time to dispense with the very concept of the West. But we haven’t got anywhere close to arriving at that point in history.

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Why Sweden is so worried about the Trump administration

Anne Applebaum writes: A winter evening in Stockholm, lights glinting in the harbor, snow falling outside. “And what about us,” I am asked, “up here in the North? What happens to us?” My Swedish companions are journalists, analysts and civil servants, people who care about their country’s national security. Though neither elite nor wealthy, they do share a worldview. They think their country’s prosperity depends on the European Union and its open markets. They also think their safety depends on the United States’ commitment to Europe. And since President Trump took office, they suddenly find themselves staring into an unfathomable abyss.

It’s not party politics that bother them: These are conservatives, by Swedish standards, and Republican presidents have suited them in the past. Trump’s tweeting and bragging don’t bother them that much either, though they find these unseemly. The real problem is deeper: Sweden’s economic and political model depends on Pax Americana, the set of American-written and American-backed rules that have governed transatlantic commerce and politics for 70 years — and they fear Trump will bring Pax Americana crashing down. Nor are they alone: Variations of this conversation are taking place in every European capital and many Asian capitals too.

The Swedes do have specific, parochial concerns, and one of them is Russia. For the past several years, Russia has played games with their air force and navy, buzzing Swedish air space and sending submarines along the coast. Jittery Swedes have brought back civil defense drills, and until November, it looked as though other changes were coming. Once, Swedish neutrality was a useful fiction, both for them and for the United States, because it gave Sweden a role as a negotiator. Now, Swedish support for joining NATO is at an all-time high. But they seem to be late to the party. If the U.S. president feels lukewarm about NATO, then what is the point? [Continue reading…]

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Even as Trump seeks warmer ties with Russia, U.S. deploys troops across Eastern Europe

The Washington Post reports: On a snowy field in southwest Poland, U.S. tanks and troops gathered on Monday to defend against a resurgent Russia that President Trump wants to befriend.

The major new deployments of tanks and other heavy equipment will fan out to nations on the Russian frontier this week, part of the largest infusion of U.S. troops to Europe since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. But the long-planned effort comes at the most unsettled time for U.S.-European relations since World War II, with Trump questioning old alliances and seeking to build bridges to the Kremlin.

When President Barack Obama committed the troops, about 3,500 in all, to Europe last February, then followed up with additional commitments to NATO over the summer, they were a bipartisan expression of support for U.S. allies at a moment of heightened fear about Russia.

Now, however, they are coming despite the White House, not because of it. Eastern European ­nations say they fully trust Washington’s commitments — but the jubilation of the summer has been replaced by concern over Trump’s overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin. NATO leaders acknowledge that the alliance will be rocked if Trump abandons the troop deployments.

The uncertainty has led to an unusual gap between Trump’s rhetoric and that of nearly the entire military establishment underneath him. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s relations with Putin warm unlike those with European leaders

The New York Times reports: President Trump began a new era of diplomacy with Russia on Saturday as he and President Vladimir V. Putin conducted an hourlong telephone call, and vowed to repair relations between the countries after nearly three years of conflict that threatened a new Cold War between East and West.

The two leaders discussed fighting terrorism and expanding economic ties, but barely mentioned the wedge that has been driven between Washington and Moscow since Russia annexed Crimea and sponsored a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Still, although Mr. Trump had previously expressed a willingness to lift sanctions against Russia, the issue did not come up, according to officials on both sides.

The tone of the conversation was reported to be warm, indicating a drastic shift after relations had broken down between Mr. Putin and former President Barack Obama. “The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the Trump administration said in a statement. “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call, the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

In its statement, the Kremlin said: “Donald Trump asked to convey a desire for happiness and prosperity for the Russian people, noting that the people in America relate with sympathy to Russia and its citizens.” Mr. Putin answered that Russians feel the same way about Americans, the statement said. Neither side mentioned the Russian hacking of the American election in their statements.

Over the past two days, Mr. Trump has also had a series of conversations with the United States’ traditional European allies, but those calls were seemingly not as congenial. After a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, in which she warned against removing sanctions on Russia, Mr. Trump had on Saturday what appeared to be a businesslike call with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and a testier call with President François Hollande of France.

Mr. Hollande’s office said the French president pressed Mr. Trump not to lift sanctions against Russia and to respect the nuclear agreement with Iran. He asserted the importance of the Paris climate change pact, warned of the consequences of protectionism, and added that democratic values included welcoming refugees — all in reaction to Mr. Trump’s first week of policy moves. Mr. Hollande also emphasized the importance of NATO and the United Nations, both of which Mr. Trump has disparaged. [Continue reading…]

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NATO has our ‘unshakeable commitment’, U.S. defence secretary Mattis vows

The Guardian reports: James Mattis, the new US defence secretary, has reassured his British counterpart that Washington has an “unshakeable commitment” to Nato, despite Donald Trump previously casting the military alliance as obsolete.

During a phone call with Michael Fallon on his first full day in office, Mattis “emphasized the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Nato”, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Ahead of his inauguration, Trump told two European newspapers he had long warned that Nato had “problems.” [Continue reading…]

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Lithuania fears a Russian invasion. Now, it wants to build a border fence

The Washington Post reports: After the Soviet Union sacrificed millions of lives to help defeat Nazi Germany, it received a token of gratitude from its allies: a chunk of territory surrounding the Prussian city of Konigsberg on the Baltic Sea. Now called Kaliningrad, the isolated and highly militarized Russian enclave of nearly 1 million people is provoking renewed fears of war in Europe.

Following a Russian military buildup in Kaliningrad over the past few months, neighboring Lithuania announced on Monday that it would build an 80-mile-long border fence equipped with surveillance cameras, scheduled to be finished later this year. “The reasons are both economic to prevent smuggling and geopolitical to strengthen the E.U.’s external border,” Interior Minister Eimutis Misiunas told the Agence France-Presse news agency. The project is expected to be funded mostly by the European Union as a security investment.

The fence is the latest sign of the heightened tensions between Russia and the West along the Baltic Sea. All three of the tiny Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are members of the E.U. and NATO. They also border Russia and were all once part of the Soviet Union.

After Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea, Baltic leaders fear their countries may be the next targets for potential Russian expansion. They have accused Russia of frequently violating NATO airspace, landing covert units on their territory and even practicing invasions of the three small countries. Politicians in Lithuania believe the fence could act as a deterrent against potential Russian incursions. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump threatens the existence of the Western alliance

Alex Massie writes: It is, remarkably, no exaggeration to say that almost everyone in Europe awaits the presidency of Donald Trump with a sense of dread. Almost everyone, that is, save for the resurgent parties of the populist far-right who see, in Trump, an example they dearly wish to emulate.

The European mainstream, however, shrinks from Trump as it has never shrunk from any previous American president. No, not Ronald Reagan and no, not even George W Bush either. Trump has not even taken office and he is already the most dangerous U.S. president in living memory. Perhaps, even, of all time.

Whatever else they were, Reagan and Bush were both men of some political experience. Trump, as he told the Times of London and Germany’s Bild, is “not a politician” and that is precisely the point. The generous assessment of the president-elect’s potential allows that his less than conventional approach to international affairs ensures that America’s foes will not easily be able to fathom or predict his intentions. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: With eager anticipation, the Kremlin is counting the days to Donald Trump’s inauguration and venting its anger at Barack Obama’s outgoing administration, no holds barred.

Careful not to hurt chances for a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations, President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have deferred questions about their plans for future contacts with Trump and any agenda for those talks until he takes office on Friday.

Trump’s open admiration of Putin has brought wide expectations of improved Moscow-Washington relations, but Trump has not articulated a clear Russia policy. His Cabinet nominees include both a retired general with a hawkish stance on Russia and an oil executive who has done extensive business in Russia.

At the same time, Russian officials are blasting the outgoing U.S. administration in distinctly undiplomatic language, dropping all decorum after Obama hit Moscow with more sanctions in his final weeks in office.

Moscow calls Obama’s team a “bunch of geopolitical losers” engaged in a last-ditch effort to inflict the maximum possible damage to U.S.-Russia ties to make it more difficult for Trump to mend the rift. [Continue reading…]

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‘Europe’s fate is in our hands’: Angela Merkel’s defiant reply to Trump

The Guardian reports: Angela Merkel has responded curtly but defiantly after Donald Trump cast further doubt on his commitment to Nato and gave strong hints that he would not support EU cohesion once in office.

“We Europeans have our fate in our own hands,” the German chancellor said after the publication of the US president-elect’s interviews with The Times and Bild. “He has presented his positions once more. They have been known for a while. My positions are also known.”

In the Times interview, Trump complained that Nato had become “obsolete” because it “hadn’t taken care of terror” – a comment later welcomed by the Kremlin. He also suggested that other European countries would follow in Britain’s footsteps and leave the EU.

Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the criticism of Nato had caused concern in the political and military alliance. “I’ve spoken today not only with EU foreign ministers but Nato foreign ministers as well and can report that the signals are that there’s been no easing of tensions,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s puppet: Trump says NATO is ‘obsolete,’ doesn’t care if EU breaks up, calls refugees ‘illegals,’ and wants ‘good deals with Russia’

Bloomberg reports: Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect.

Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal.

Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild.

The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government.

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’

Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world. [Continue reading…]

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How fake news turns 87 U.S. tanks into 2,000 tanks threatening Russia

I’m not really a fan of this expression “fake news.” For one thing, like any other pejorative it can too easily get hijacked by practitioners of the Trump school of political rhetoric.

So, when it comes to a website like Michel Chossudovsky’s Global Research, while it can reasonably be described as a chronic purveyor of fake news, I think it can just as accurately be described as a piece of crap.

Consider, for instance, this piece of “reporting” based itself on a “report” from actor Janus Putkonen’s, “Donbass International News Agency.”

Global Research reposts the article which begins:

The NATO war preparation against Russia, ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve’, is in full swing. 2,000 US tanks will be sent in coming days from Germany to Eastern Europe, and 1,600 US tanks is deployed to storage facilities in the Netherlands. At the same time, NATO countries are sending thousands of soldiers in to Russian borders.

Following Russian intervention in Ukraine, “Operation Atlantic Resolve” began in 2014 and was designed to “reassure NATO allies and partners of America’s dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region,” according to the Pentagon.

So what about these 2,000 tanks?

It seems like the Putkonen system of military analysis works like this: find a report that includes “2,000” and “tanks” in the same sentence and, voila! You end up with 2,000 tanks.

On January 6, Stars and Stripes reported:

The U.S. Army began unloading tanks and other weaponry in the German port of Bremerhaven Friday, marking the arrival of the first wave of gear that will support the rotation of an armored brigade in Europe.

Over the next several days, the equipment will be offloaded and moved by rail, commercial lines and convoy into staging sites in Poland.

The arrival of the military hardware and troops from the Fort Carson-based 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division marks the start of the first full-time presence of a tank brigade in Europe since the last armored units on the Continent were inactivated several years ago.

In all, the Fort Carson brigade will bring 87 tanks, 18 Paladins; 419 multi-purpose and 144 Bradley Fighting Vehicles; as well as some 2,000 additional vehicles and trailers.

Call me a stickler for accuracy, but I’d say there’s a big difference between 87 tanks and 2,000 tanks, but then again, who’s to say what the U.S. Army might be hiding inside its vehicle-borne portajohns.

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