June 18, 2022No Comments

Will METO be the new NATO?

Author: Shahin Modarres.

As the light at the end of the tunnel of revitalizing the JCPOA grows weaker the tension between Iran and the international community rises fiercely. Tension can be analyzed on two levels, regional level, and international level. On a regional level whilst Iran's regional competitors express their concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israel has been applying a drastically different approach, a completely physical approach that dances on the edge of initiating a direct regional conflict. For the past month a notable number of high-ranking officers and scientists within the IRGC and Ministry of defense have been targeted and assassinated in the streets of Iran, almost all targets played an important role in the country's nuclear and missile program. Even though the Israeli officials never officially accepted the responsibility but Israel remains to be the main guess behind the calls. At the same time reports have been registered regarding threats against Israeli citizens in Turkey and Thailand. Earlier Israel's minister of foreign affairs asked all citizens to evacuate Istanbul immediately because of a series of imminent threats against their lives. 

On another proxy level, the shelling of Iranian infrastructures in Syria by the Israeli Air Force has been intensified. Drones trying to reach Israeli territories through Iraq's airspace have been shot and there have been reports of drone attacks on safe sites of Israel's intelligence operations according to Iranian authorities. Constant cyber war has been going on as well, every now and then, Iranian or Israeli hackers have been claiming victory by accessing infrastructures or personal data from the rival. A full encounter between the countries is now more threatening than ever. That is the main reason why both actors are reinforcing their teams in anticipation. 

Image Source: https://www.bakerinstitute.org/center-for-the-middle-east/

One of Iran's main bargaining leverages has been its regional influence. A military influent formed of mostly Shiite militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen running alongside vast support of Sunni groups such as Hamas for years gave Iran an upper hand to proceed with its regional proxy wars but what has changed? Iran's influence in the region has been limited mainly because of two reasons, a technological shift in the defense paradigm and a realistically Machiavellian perception of diplomacy. The aerial defense system known as the "Iron Dome" by Israel has definitely been a game-changer redefining traditional defensive methods through advanced approaches to countering missile attacks. On the diplomatic level, the "Abraham Accords" were none other than a realist perception of "my enemy's enemy can be my friend!" The growing angle of difference between Iran and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia itself lead the tension between Israel and Arab countries to decrease gradually. Now a new form of an alliance is being formed between them. An alliance that some interpret as a Middle Eastern form of NATO; is METO. 

A few days ago Israel's minister of defense called for a new alliance between Israel and its Arab partners against Iran led by the United States. It appears that the defensive circle against Iran is getting tighter but at the same time Iran has decided to deactivate the surveillance set by the IAEA within its nuclear facilities. President Biden's trip to the Middle East will happen soon during which he will visit Israel and Saudi Arabia. Against all odds, the Biden administration appears to be considering its foreign policy legacy none other than peacebuilding between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hence, his trips will play a crucial role that may affect and form Middle East's near future on different levels.

A Middle Eastern Treaty Organization(METO) on a dynamic scale may only live with the blessing of the United States. But on a regional level, actors are consciously trying to build an independent alliance as well. Almost each and every member of the new alliance at some point during the past two decades has been unhappy regarding US policies in the region hence traces of a collective will to have independent strong regional alliances are quite clear amongst actors. There is already talk regarding Israel sharing parts of its "Iron Dome" technology with Arab partners. Whilst wealthy Arab partners can generously invest in the Israeli technological and scientific R&D, all allies may benefit from the results.  

On the other end, Iran has shown a Russo-Oriental turn towards developing military and security cooperation with China and Russia. Also, there has been a fast development of the county's Aerospatiale program, particularly in regards to ballistic missiles program, drones, and satellites. Even though the Iranian economy is facing its most fragile state expenses regarding the doctrines of "Defense and Influence" have indeed increased. 

To anticipate the outcome of this equation we all need to think in a Machiavellian context, to simply interpret the equation based on each country's national interest. Will the US join the coalition to form METO? Will Russia and China support their supposed ally if Iran's nuclear program once again ends up in the United Nations Security Council? And eventually, the final unfortunate question is, will we face another devastating war in the Middle East?  

April 13, 2022No Comments

Enlargement of NATO to Eastern Europe: Reasons and Consequences for European Security

By: Alessandro Spada.

Introduction

Today, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is an intergovernmental military alliance among the US, Canada and 28 European countries – but it has not always been this  large. Indeed, when Nato was first conceived in 1949 it was made up of just 12 members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. The creation of the Alliance pursued three essential purposes: “deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration”. The accession process is regulated by Article 10 of the Treaty and other European Countries can be invited to participate. The aspiring member countries must meet key requirements and implement a multi-step process including political, economic, defence, resource, security and legal aspects. In case they are experiencing any issue, they can request assistance, practical support and the advice by a NATO programme, which is called the Membership Action Plan (MAP)

Image Source: The Expansion of NATO Since 1949

Past enlargements

After the end of the Cold War, we can witness four different waves of NATO expansion to Eastern Europe. The first important wave of expansion to the East was launched by the reunification of Germany in 1990. On 12th September 1990, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, commonly known as Two Plus Four Treaty, was signed by the foreign ministers of  the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. The Treaty regulated all the foreign policy aspects of German reunification, including the membership to Nato, and imposed the withdrawal of all the foreign troops and the deployment of their nuclear weapons from the former East Germany and also the prohibition to West Germany’s possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. On October 3rd 1990, the  German Democratic Republic and Federal Republic were reunited again.

As to the second wave, the new member countries were Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. First, on 15th February 1991 they formed the Visegrad Group. Then, on 1st January 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1997, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary took part in the Alliance’s Madrid Summit and on 12th March 1999, the three former Warsaw Pact members joined NATO. The main reasons were: “to ensure thecountry’s external security”, to impede “the possibility of a great war in unstable Central Europe” and for Poland also “to advance its military capabilities”.

In May 2000, a group of NATO candidate countries created the Vilnius Group (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). The Vilnius Group resorted to the Membership Action Plan which was introduced by NATO for the first time at the 1999 Washington Summit. In addition, Croatia joined the Vilnius Group in May 2001. The Summit of the NATO Aspirant countries “Riga 2002: The Bridge to Prague” started the path towards the alliance’s membership which took place in Riga, Latvia, on July 5-6, 2002, where the leaders of NATO member and aspirant countries gathered for the last time before the NATO 2002 Prague Summit in November. On 29th March 2004, the largest wave of enlargement in alliance history materialized, except for Albania and Croatia. For Baltic states and Bulgaria, NATO membership symbolized their wish to be part of the European family. NATO was perceived not just merely as a military alliance with security guarantees under Article 5, but as a symbol of higher development, where Baltic states could find their proper place. Moreover, it was the attempt to escape Russian influence, in favor of the protection provided by the American strategic nuclear umbrella and a collective defence.

The same path of the Vilnius Group was followed by the Adriatic Charter of European  countries. The Adriatic Charter was created in Tirana on 2nd May by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and USA for the purpose to obtain their North Atlantic Alliance admission. Albania and Macedonia were previous participants of MAP since its creation in 1999, while Croatia joined in 2002. Moreover, Macedonia also took part in Nato's Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1995. On 1st April 2009, the North Atlantic Alliance officially annexed Albania and Croatia after their participation in the 2008 Bucharest Summit. Macedonia accession was postponed because of a dispute on the formal name with Greece. Macedonia became NATO's 30th country on 27th March 2020. Montenegro emulated the same path of the latter, but joined three years before on 5th June 2017, after the Accession Protocol signature in May 2016. For Montenegro itself, the major incentives to join NATO were the future eventuality of EU membership, the highest prestige of the Atlantic Alliance and to achieve “Nato’s security guarantee”.

Future enlargements

Bosnia Herzegovina is the only potential candidate which joined the Membership Action Plan on 5th December 2018.  In spite of Georgia and Ukraine expressing the will to start their path to the North Atlantic Alliance, their situation is still uncertain. The primary reason remains the need to meet all necessary requirements through important reforms focused on key areas; and, the current Russia-Ukraine war.

Consequences for the European Security

On one hand, many consequences, which were the main reasons for NATO expansion to the East, materialized in reality. For example, the inclusion of Eastern Europe nations in the military agreement have promoted democratic reform and stability there, provided stronger collective defense and an improved ability to address new security concerns, improved relations among the Eastern and Central European states, fostered a more stable climate for economic reform, trade, and foreign investment, and finally, improved NATO's ability to operate as a cooperative security organization with broad European security concern,” as stated in the clear purposes contained in a prepared statement of the Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on 23rd April 1997.

On the other hand, in spite of NATO's open door policy with Russia, the latter constitutes  the largest threat for European security once again in the energy, political and military field. Indeed, the current conflict in Ukraine shows the evident ambition to create a new Russian empire by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Many warnings about Russia’s reaction were expressed in the declarations of Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, when he worked as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. On 26th June 1997, a group of 50 prominent foreign policy experts that included former senators, retired military officers, diplomats and academicians, sent an open letter to President Clinton outlining their opposition to NATO expansion”In the end, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine, George F. Kennan described the NATO expansion as a “tragic mistake”.

Conclusion

The current Russian invasion in Ukraine puts in clear evidence the necessity for the EU countries to accelerate the formation process of the European Army. They will have to achieve energy independence by using Russian gas, diversifying their own supplier countries and to invest massively in the green economy. Moreover, the EU must strengthen its common foreign policy, implementing an effective diplomatic action and speaking with one voice to cope with the great tensions around Europe and the rest of the world. If not, the European project will risk crumbling. 

March 21, 2022No Comments

Russia-Ukraine War Fact Sheet

By: Sofia Staderini

The Russian tactic is that of a pincer encirclement of entire Ukraine – from Russian territory and occupied Crimea, Donbas, and Belarus - and inside they follow the same tactic as Kyiv's focus, methodically destroying civilian infrastructure and nuclear power plants. The attempt is to demoralize and coerce Ukrainians. Yet morale is rising and these same civilians are becoming soldiers. Such support somewhat offsets the quantitative advantage of the Russian army in manpower and equipment. Now, Russian troops make advances into Ukrainian territory only at the cost of hundreds of soldiers every day, failing for now to take control of any regional center.

Their qualitative advantage is very reduced, as can be inferred from the high level of losses, which seems to be well above 5%, in men and materials. Russia could take control of the territory, but only with long times and high destruction. Reservist and conscript call-ups, as well as the ongoing shipment of Syrian and Chechen militants to Russia and Belarus, will not be able to affect the balance of troops around Kyiv in the coming week, slowing down the Russian tactic as it is momentarily unable to conduct simultaneous attacks.

Image Source: https://it.depositphotos.com/folder/La%20verità%20sulla%20guerra%20della%20Russia%20in%20Ucraina-299150880.html?offset=200&qview=551211048&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ntf_ruby_war&utm_term=100_images

Russia is now deploying maneuverable Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, reported by Russian state news agencies as a “next-generation weapon”. While it is very unlikely that the deployment of Kh-47M2 missiles will have a major impact on the current stall of the invasion, It could likely point out a shortage of other weapons and a propagandistic effort to distort Russia’s military failure.

However, after an end of decades of deterrence orthodoxy, the danger of a possible escalation involving nuclear weapons is real. Indeed, Putin has used nuclear threats to create a wide perimeter in which he may pursue a conventional war in Europe. NATO countries are doing everything to avoid escalations, complying with a policy of non-intervention for avoiding direct contact with the Russian military.

While not directing intervening in Ukraine, NATO countries are deploying significant military aid to the country while drastically raising defense spending, reclaiming the alliance's historical role as a protective haven against Moscow's military activities. Germany in particular is now increasing its defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output: a historic departure from its postwar commitment not to transfer armaments to combat zones. Moreover, the European Union's recent investments (€500 million) in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military mark a “watershed moment” in its history.

Image Source: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/russia-now-global-economic-pariah-ruble-worth-less-than-one-penny-us-2811892

However, many countries are starting to be bitten by the economic effects of the war, especially those with currencies linked to the rubble. More sanctions implications are quite likely to emerge in the coming weeks, particularly in a case like the EU-Russia energy partnership, where dependency is significant. Indeed, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is now serving as a geopolitical catalyst on key strategic, economic, and societal issues and will certainly bring to consider re-alignments, particularly in Post-Soviet countries and the Middle East. NATO's deterrent posture must be strengthened as well as cooperation and dialogue with the various regional actors in order to figure out the next evolutions in the geopolitical chessboards.

March 8, 2022No Comments

Taras Kuzio on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis and the War in Donbass

Professor Taras Kuzio from Henry Jackson Society and Kyiv Mohyla Academy shares his insights on the Russo-Ukraine crisis, Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in Donbass and Ukraine’s membership of NATO and EU. 

Interviewers: Igor Shchubetun, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

February 2, 2022No Comments

Sergey Markedonov on Georgia’s Political and Social Polarisation

Sergey Markedonov is an Associate Professor at Russian State University for the Humanities based in Moscow (Russia). From May 2010 to October 2013, he was a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, DC, USA). In April-May 2015 he was a visiting fellow at the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies, Institute of International Studies (IIS), Fudan University (Shanghai, China). 

He shares his insights on Georgia's political and social polarisation; its use as a field for NATO-Russian confrontation and its key role in the Caucasus region. 

Interviewing Team: Igor Shchebetun, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

February 2, 2022No Comments

The Ukrainian Crisis which Washington wants Resolved Quickly

By: Francesco Cirillo

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/moscow-spasskaya-tower-3895333/

With the letter delivered to Moscow the dialogue on the guarantees linked to security put forward by the Russian Federation, we enter the difficult task of keeping open a channel that should aim at a decrease in tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

For Moscow now it is necessary time for Russian President Vladimir Putin to carefully analyze all the documents received from both the United States and NATO; but Russian foreign minister Lavrov himself said that both Washington and the Atlantic Alliance rejected Russia’s request to suspend NATO’s eastward expansion.

While both NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have stated that they are ready for dialogue with the Kremlin, which at the moment has given no signs of reducing troops (according to some networks, almost 100,000 men and armored vehicles) near the border with Ukraine. To increase the pressure on the Russian leadership and Putin, Blinken himself stated that in the event of a Russian invasion, Washington would implement a strategy, with Berlin, to block the completion of the North Stream 2 gas pipeline. Europe. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has asked the United States to take Russian concerns seriously.

The US dilemma on the Ukrainian crisis concerns the desire to resolve it quickly to avoid bogging down the other dossiers that the Biden administration considers vital, first and foremost the internal economic situation and the internal pandemic. Other concerns the issues concerning the Indo-Pacific and that concerning the confrontation with China. It is vital for Washington to resolve the issue in Europe that it avoids engaging directly and leaving the field to the European allies of the EU and NATO. In recent days, Jens Stoltenberg declared that NATO will not send Pact troops to Kiev, a statement also accompanied by the US, a statement coming from the White House spokesman, in which it was explicitly stated that the United States does not intend to send troops in Ukraine.

In this Kiev finds itself closed by the desire to prepare for a possible Russian invasion and with only informal and diplomatic support, with economic and military aid that comes from the Baltic countries, Poland and the UK. Meanwhile, Moscow decides to keep the units near the Ukrainian border and the US has put 8,500 people on alert ready to be deployed in NATO allied countries. Another burden will concern the possible negotiations between Washington and Moscow on the "security guarantees" that the latter expects to deal with. The Kremlin aims to gain recognition of its spheres of influence from neighboring countries and opposition to the entry of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine into the Atlantic Alliance. On the opposite front, both Washington and NATO, in the documents delivered to Moscow, ask the Russians to start a diplomatic path that leads to discussing Russian requests and a possible de-escalation but rejecting the request to suspend expansion towards Eastern Europe.

The dialogue between Moscow and Washington / NATO / EU continues, but with 100,000 troops from the Russian Federation close to the Ukrainian borders.

January 28, 2022No Comments

Why is it vital for Russia to restore the USSR Borders?

By: Igor Shchebetun, Fabrizio Napoli, Alessio Calzetti and Davide Gobbicchi.

Image Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/SovietRussiaUkraineAndSoOn

Russian ships are trailing NATO in the Black Sea, and Putin is threatening to knock the teeth out of foreign aggressors which has given rise to serious disagreements. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost the gains of hundreds of years of territorial expansion. The country has crossed the threshold of the millennium licking its wounds and is under threat of further disintegration. Today, the post-Soviet states are facing a familiar unease; many are looking back at the past and cautiously awaiting Moscow's future actions. Faced with a cornered bear, the best strategy is to do nothing to anger it. 

Stretched from west to east, Russia is Goliath on the world stage. The country has 20,000 km of common borders with seventeen states, twelve of which were part of the Soviet Union. Having such a long land border seriously complicates security. As early as the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow was immediately confronted with a geopolitical problem at the dawn of its restoration. Surrounded by enemies on all sides, Russia began to expand its territory and take possession of geographical barriers that could protect it. Be it rivers, lakes, mountains, or seas. In the first century of its existence, the country expanded annually by an area equal to the entire area of Belgium. By the early 18th century, Russia had grown to its present borders. Even today, the country's geography offers significant advantages. The frozen crown of Arctic ice that adorns Russia's territory makes land invasion from the north impossible. Even the most experienced admirals will not be able to approach Murmansk and Arkhangelsk by water, two serious obstacles will stand in their way: the Faro-Icelandic frontier and the Bear Frontier. The first is an open-ocean defense line between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, and the second is between Spitsbergen and northern Norway. 

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Union#/media/File:Cold_War_border_changes.png

These narrow passages are easily defended by submarines, of which Russia has plenty. To the east, the rugged coastlines of Siberia adjoin the Bering Strait, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Sea of Japan. The short distance between Alaska and Russia may seem passable, but the Arctic climate: strong tidal waves and the presence of heavy firepower on both sides limit the movement of armed forces in this area. By controlling the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands, Russia can deter hostile actions in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. At the same time, the Stanovaya Ridge and the Sayan Mountains strengthen Russia's position in the Far East. The harsh climate further restricts movement even in places where passage is possible. Most of Russia's eastern borders give the country's armed forces an advantage in any conflict, but the situation looks more complicated in the eastern European part of the country. 

Central Russia stretches from St. Petersburg to Kazan and Volgograd. About 80 percent of the population lives in this geographic area. Almost every decision the Kremlin makes is based on these people's needs and interests, but the center shares its periphery with six other former Soviet republics: Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Their territories are among the most troubled regions of the world. Two anomalies, the Crimean Peninsula and the exclave of Kaliningrad, are a start. They are both strategic military bases, preventing hostile forces from entering the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Both regions house heavy weaponry and assets to prevent access and maneuvering. Other powers have to think twice before approaching Crimea or Kaliningrad. Near the borders of the Russian Federation, the European Plain is more than 2,000 km wide, making it the largest open stretch of landscape in the world. The terrain here is flat, open, and defenseless. The main battle tanks provide some protection on this type of terrain, so Russia has about 13,000 of them-almost a fifth of the world's tank fleet. Still, no amount of weaponry can fully protect 2,000 km of flat terrain. For 750 km east of the Ukrainian border to the city of Astrakhan on the shores of the Caspian Sea there is a continuous hilly landscape called the Volgograd Corridor. The German military attempted to break this line in both world wars. Both times Russia hung on by a thread until the offensive was repelled. The collapse of the Soviet Union put the Baltics in the hands of NATO, which gave the three republics the confidence to negotiate with Russia as equals. The loss of Eastern European possessions took a heavy toll on Moscow, both politically and financially. The country had to fortify its borders with one of the most advanced weapons on the planet. Meanwhile, control of the Baltic would allow Russia to push its border as far as Kaliningrad. Thus, by restoring Soviet borders, Moscow would reduce the length of its unprotected flank to.

December 10, 2021No Comments

Geopolitical Implications of Finland’s H-X Program

By: Arnaud Sobrero and Romain Gallix

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77821971@N07/48909659726/

Finland is currently seeking to replace its aging F-18 with a global competition dubbed H-X worth $11 billion. It is expected that a decision will be made public before the end of 2021. Arguably, fighter jets represent a crucial component of States’ security and a decisive hard power asset in every conflictual context. This article aims at uncovering the underlying dynamics of the Western defense industry implied by the evolution of the Finnish tender. 

As of December 2021, the Finnish Ministry of Defense has received responses for its request for information from the European Eurofighter Typhoon, the Swedish Saab Gripen, the French Dassault Rafale, and the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35. 

Divided European contenders open the way for American offers

The Finnish request for information received answers from all major Western fighter jets producers; hence the comparison of contenders allows us to identify several factors shaping the evolutions of the industry. The very fact that Finland launched its fleet’s renewing process very close to the expected decommission date for its current Hornets, as their “structural fatigue” denounces, exemplifies how procurement programs are not at the top of policy-makers agenda (Finnish Ministry of Defense).

The cost borne by single states with limited expenditure margins is becoming increasingly untenable, especially where political pressure on taxpayers’ spending is large (e.g., the United Kingdom). Moreover, countries may not dispose of design and production capacity over the entire technological spectrum, such as Italy and Spain. The relative political frenzy generated in recent decades made transnational fighter jets’ fleets a common feature of Western air forces. However, the pan-European Eurofighter Typhoon underwent difficulties showcasing the complexity of such projects, with reluctant transfers, unclear directions, and soaring costs due to fragmented production. 

Meanwhile, the individual offers from France and Sweden do not seem greatly superior. The Dassault Rafaleand the Saab Gripen offer suffer from their limited interoperability and relatively isolated stance in the current geopolitical equilibrium. Indeed, the political logic of defense procurement programs vastly supersedes the economic aspects of the choice. Was Finland to purchase the Saab Gripen underdog from its neighbor, its strategic prospects would be very limited and centered on Russian containment. The Rafale, in turn, would signify Finland’s alignment on the French posture of European strategic autonomy from the U.S. The 1,340km-long border Helsinki shares with Russia makes this perspective impossible. Therefore, although the Rafale has recently been sold to Croatia and Greece, Dassault’s offer seems compromised.

The American bidders consequently benefit from the lack of unity of European actors and put forward the geopolitical continuity they represent as a sales’ argument. The Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet proposal would minimize the H-X program costs due to pre-existing maintenance and operating capacities while selecting the F-35 would guarantee the acquisition of new, cutting-edge capacities

A degrading security environment

In recent years, we have witnessed a degradation of the international security environment with Russia’s resurgence and the growing assertiveness of China’s behavior. Primarily concerned with Russia, Finland finds itself in a delicate position as it is the E.U. member that shares the largest border with Russia. Russia has been particularly active in recent years by bolstering its military, as demonstrated by its intervention in the Syrian front, its attempts to upset the status quo, and its destabilization of NATO from within. Growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine are fueling a sense of regional insecurity with a Russian troop buildup as well as creating some levels of uncertainty regarding Russia’s intentions. Amid a large scale rearmament program, Russia has been able to field the SU-57, a modern stealth fighter aircraft, and develop lighter fifth-generation aircraft, the Checkmate, focused on export markets and somewhat reminiscent of the F-35.

Given the growing insecurity of its regional environment, Finland may be looking to maintain its strategic relationship with the U.S. and reinforce its indirect relationships with NATO. A critical political and strategic factor to consider is the interoperability of weapon systems within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although Finland is not a member of the Alliance, the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet would expand the reach of NATO and its ability to share data, engage in secure communication, and increase interoperability capabilities between the U.S. and other U.S.-allied European assets. Thus, beyond the interoperability aspect of those deals, acquiring the F-35 or the F-18 does bring diplomatic benefits and strengthen relationships with the United States.

The case of buying a strategic relationship with the U.S.

When it comes to large military hardware procurement, countries’ decisions are influenced by the prospect of a future strategic relationship with the procuring country. Buying U.S. material implies future interoperability, a valuable prospect in a world of growing tensions. In addition, the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) framework is largely seen as a political instrument by Washington to deepen relationships with key allies. As such, the F-35 initially developed to replace aging F-16s, is poised to become one of America’s biggest exports. By strengthening military interoperability with U.S. allies across the globe and elevating their airpower capabilities, the F-35 is instrumental to America’s containment military strategies. Furthermore, some experts argue that the F-35 program acts as America’s Belt and Road Initiative, at least from a strategic and military standpoint. It provides a network and a platform acting as ‘a generator of wealth and peaceful co-existence on a global scale.’

Even soaring costs do not prevent countries from buying the F-35. Small players such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland have already chosen to buy the F-35 jets, notwithstanding questionable financial dispositions. This perfectly illustrates the underpinning political challenge at stake. For example, Switzerland agreed to buy 36 F-35As in July 2021 and Patriot air defense systems, even though the decision was controversial and considered overkill.

Thus, buying American-made fighter jets does bring significant commercial, industrial, and geopolitical benefits. Indeed, by buying American fighter jets, Finland would essentially strengthen its strategic relationship with the U.S.

Conclusively, given the degrading security environment Finland finds itself in and the growing importance of the U.S. strategic relationship, Finland is more likely to acquire U.S. technologies to replace its aging F-18s. Arguably, the F-35 appears better suited to meet Finland’s short and long-term requirements by strengthening its military and political relationship with the U.S. and acquiring an aircraft that could address the existing and emerging military threat as Russia deploys additional advanced stealth combat airborne platforms. 

October 12, 2021No Comments

Ethics in Military Training: Israel involvement in Operation Falcon Strike 21

Image Source: Ari Gross Judah, In first, Israeli F-35s train in Italy — with Iran in their sights, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-first-israeli-f-35s-train-in-italy-with-iran-in-their-sights/

By: Maria Chiara Aquilino

Operation Falcon Strike 21 was initiated from the Italian Military Air Force base in Amendola (FG), Italy on 6th June 2021. It was promoted by the Stato Maggiore della Difesa (Defence Staff) in partnership with NATO, mainly with the United States of America and the United Kingdom and Israel. The involvement of Israeli Air Force (IAF) in the twelve days of aeronaval training, its consequential collaboration with the Italian, American and British military forces gathered the Italian public attention and raised questions on the role of ethics in the decisions made by the NATO powers. 

While there are not many details available on how the Operation Falcon Strike 21 originated, it facilitated the integration from airplanes between the 4th and 5th generation of fighters and increased the level of cooperation between powers in the logistic field and concerning the transfer of F-35 fighter jets. Thus, strengthening the interoperability of allied air forces and partners during joint operations. Exercises to master the use of the most advanced missile defence systems took place in between Sardinia and regions of Southern Italy (Il Manifesto, 2021). 

As the Operation was initiated, an old debate on the role of ethics in military trainings emerged, due to the public fear for how the development of knowledge in the field could be exploited by Israel in its own military operations. Indeed, the participation of this Middle-Eastern Power in exercises that are strategically designed to test the firepower of new F-35 fighter-bombers provided. The debate in fact dates back to 2016 when IAF received its first F-35 fighter jets. Initial trainings with the collaboration with the Western military forces, in particular with the Royal Air Forces and the US Marines, started in 2019. It included the Tri-Lightning exercise and continued with the Enduring Lightning ones organised by Israel and the United States (Aviation Report, 2021).

Since the IAF received its first F-35 fighter jets, it has strived to obtain more of them to be added to its fleet in groups of twos and threes throughout the past years, reaching the current level of 27 planes in total. Additionally, by 2024 23 F-35 jets will be owned by Israel to meet the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) purpose of acquiring a total of 50 aircraft. The Israeli officials have also confirmed that they are planning to purchase more of these aircrafts (The Times of Israel, 2021). 

Undoubtedly, the possibility of Israel deploying the acquired assets to fight its own wars within the Middle East generates an evident threat, which has indeed awakened concerns among the public. In particular, strikes have been organised in the areas close to the military air force base in Amendola, from where the operation was launched as pro-Palestine organisations have mobilized to show their disapproval for the partnership with Israel (Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo, 2021). The exhibited disagreement with practices strengthening Western powers relationship with Israel was further emphasised since a statement released by one of IAF senior officials claimed that the extensive training conducted in Italy would be a historic chance to train its pilots to future wars in the Middle-Eastern area, particularly in Iran (Il Manifesto, 2021). 

Hence, the rise of concerns among pro-Palestine groups regarding the consequences of including Israel in the trainings is inevitable. Yet, this only seem to strike the attention of worried civilians, as indeed even after the IAF statement, the Operation was successfully carried out. 

Operation Falcon 21 was arguably an implicit declaration that it is ultimately ethical to include powers such as Israel in advanced military training conducted by NATO powers, regardless of the knowledge that the former might use the abilities and means gained to fight its own wars. The United States, United Kingdom and Italy have inevitably provided Israel with an outstanding opportunity to improve its military capabilities by supplying it with arms and helping in the development of knowledge about their use. This comes as a direct contradiction of the values of human rights and peace-keeping that these Western Powers claim to uphold. It appears though that for the Western powers, the role of ethics in strategic military decisions is overshadowed where there is a need to build partnerships with key powers such as Israel. 

July 12, 2021No Comments

If Russia attacks the Baltics

By: Igor Shchebetun

NATO exercise Defenders of Europe 20 was to be the largest U.S. troop deployment to Europe in more than 25 years. The main purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate the Alliance's ability to come to the aid of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which joined NATO in 2004. Despite the strongly pronounced pro-Western course of these countries, energy ties, trade flows and geographical realities make the three former Soviet republics the arena of an unspoken struggle for influence between Washington and Moscow.  What will happen to the Baltic states if tensions rise sharply and relations between Russia and NATO reach the phase of armed conflict? For centuries, the three small countries around the Baltic Sea have been the battleground for influence between the great powers. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the countries of the Baltic region strengthened their economic integration with the West, resulting in the economic prosperity of all three states, but the success of the Baltics also exposes the vulnerability of NATO in this region. 

Latvia and Estonia share a border with Russia, and the presence of large Russian-speaking communities in both countries inevitably leads to disagreements and conflicts over linguistic citizenship rights and historical memory. The focus here is on hybrid threats, where technically savvy Estonians seek to repel cyberattacks while Latvia focuses on strategic communications for information warfare. The two Baltic states are more susceptible to direct military pressure from Russia than their neighbour to the south Lithuania has the largest population among the three countries and is located in the most strategically important territory in the Baltic. It is here in the southernmost Baltic state that the tactical confrontation between Russia and NATO will take place. The Baltic states have no chance to withstand the onslaught of the Russian army. The question is whether it will be able to strengthen its allies before the Russian invasion.

Exercise Defender of Europe 20, scheduled for late March 2020, was supposed to be an attempt to answer this question. It was supposed to mobilize more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers and move more than 13,000 pieces of military equipment across the continent to demonstrate the Alliance's ability to defend the southern Baltic region, but was canceled due to movement restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic. Although the exercises were not carried out as planned, the current military situation in the Baltic is worth exploring. The key to understanding the specifics of the region is its geography. Most importantly the presence of Russia here and the Kaliningrad region is a Russian enclave about the size of Northern Ireland located on the Baltic Sea coast southwest of Lithuania. 

Because of the stationing of the Russian-Baltic Fleet headquarters, the small subject of the Federation is well protected and considered the most militarized region in Europe. In February 2018, Kaliningrad became home to Iskander operational-tactical missile systems with nuclear capabilities and a range that covered all of the Baltic states and beyond. In addition, the province has the resources to limit and deny access and maneuvers at sea through long-range missiles, anti-ship missiles, missile defense systems, air, land and naval forces. 

Needless to say, Kaliningrad will play a decisive role in any confrontation with Russia. Today, the U.S. military leadership believes that the firepower present in Kaliningrad is enough to block U.S. naval forces from entering the Baltic Sea. This means that military action in the Baltics will take place on land, which completely changes the picture. After the events of 2014, NATO deployed a significantly deterrent force to its Eastern European countries. Expanded Forward Presence. This is a program to deploy troops consisting of combat units from the armies of various NATO members, equipped with relatively light weapons and ready to resist aggression under allied command. According to NATO statements, four multinational battlegroups deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States. Canada and Germany and the United States, respectively, would increase Russian losses in the event of Russian intervention in the Baltics. The Kremlin argues that this increased presence raises security concerns and will only increase tensions in the future. Such escalation has already begun over the past few years, Russia has strengthened its air and anti-aircraft missile capabilities with equipment such as the Kalibr ship-based missile system with a range of up to 2,000 km, the S-400 Triumf long-range air defense system and the advanced Su-30cm fighter-bombers. 

In 2017, the Kremlin tested this equipment in a large-scale exercise by the West envisioning a worsening of relations with the West and highlighting the conflict on the territory of the Baltic states. During the exercise, Coastal Defense systems in Kaliningrad hit surface targets and Russian strategic targets near the Lithuanian border. Bombers attacked ground targets for the first time since the Cold War. Tensions are clearly high and further escalation does not look favorable to NATO in terms of military prospects. The stretch of land located between northeastern Poland and southern Lithuania between Kaliningrad and Belarus at its narrowest point is only 66 kilometers wide and is called the Suwalki Corridor. This strategically important area is one of NATO's most vulnerable geostrategic points because it serves as the only land corridor between the alliance and the Baltic states. Whoever controls the Suvalki corridor will dominate the entire battlefield, so NATO should do everything possible to maintain land access to the Baltics, while Russia will do everything possible to block this passage. For Lithuania the Suvalki corridor is also crucial because this area provides access to the second largest city in the country, Kaunas, located at the confluence of two major rivers dividing the country into two parts. Historically, both Napoleon and Hitler conducted offensives through the Suvalki Corridor. During the First World War, the Russian troops conducted counterattacks here. This region became the main battlefield of the Polish-Lithuanian War. The hilly terrain in Suwalki makes it difficult to regain control of the area should it be lost, and reinforcing NATO defenses face diplomatic difficulties in view of the transport routes from Russia to Kaliningrad that pass through here. More specifically, Russia has a legal right of passage through the Suvalki corridor to connect with Kaliningrad, and this freedom of access is a red line for Moscow. The Zapad 2017 exercise involving Belarus demonstrated how easily Russia can gain an advantage on the eastern flank of the Suvalki Corridor through which it can ferry its units. Meanwhile, it is assumed that three brigades of about 15,000 soldiers can be mobilized on the western flank in Kaliningrad alone for comparison, the regular Lithuanian army has 18,000 soldiers and it is not as well equipped as the Russian army and the number of forward multinational NATO units is just over 4 and a half thousand soldiers in fact the Russian troops located in the region outnumber the NATO troops by a ratio of about eight to one.

It is believed that to achieve parity with the Russian NATO forces, 18 more brigades will have to be deployed in the Baltics. However, reinforcing the Baltic allies is a politically risky and logistically complex undertaking. Even in the air NATO will not find it easy to gain military superiority. It is worth stressing that NATO has the technical capability to destroy Russian missile systems in the region. However, such a strike would increase tensions to the point of no return, which is a dangerous gamble in a conflict with a nuclear power.

All this means that at the moment Russia can easily suppress NATO forces in the Suvali corridor and isolate the Baltic states. This could be realized quite unexpectedly given Russia's freedom of movement in this region and the close proximity of its forces in Belarus and long-range missiles in Kaliningrad. Even with the rapid deployment of NATO forces, as suggested by the Defender of Europe 22 exercise, there is great doubt that they will be able to defend this territory until reinforcements arrive. Retaking the Suvalki Corridor by military means will require significant efforts from every NATO member state. By and large, NATO's vulnerability in the Baltics is well known to its military leadership. However, the general public in NATO member states is less familiar with it. Increased awareness of military realities could prevent possible miscalculations, because in any situation on the brink of war, NATO democracies would have to enlist the support of the people. Article 5 of NATO declares that an attack on one member of the Alliance is an attack on all members. This is the Cornerstone of the entire organization. If the Kremlin's ultimate goal is the destruction of NATO, one way of doing so is to demonstrate that the Alliance cannot defend its allies and the Baltics is the best place to test this theory.