January 25, 2024No Comments

Professor Joachim Koops on the future of international interventions following MINUSMA’s withdrawal

Professor Joachim Koops talks about the prospects for international military interventions in light of the new geopolitical scenario, specifically the closure of the UN mission in Mali. Professor Joachim A. Koops is Chair of Security Studies and Scientific Director of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University’s campus in The Hague.

In this session, Professor Koops outlines the factors that led to Mali’s shift from supporting a UN peace mission with high involvement from Western powers to entering the Russian sphere of influence. He highlights how the increased instability in West Africa can be seen through the lens of West-Russia competition and how the war in Ukraine has not particularly influenced NATO’s efforts in its southern flank. He further notes that this will not likely be the end of large-scale UN multi-dimensional peace missions.

Interviewer: Michele Puggia - Military Strategy and Intelligence Team

January 2, 2024No Comments

The fragile unity of Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Authors: Federico Alistair D'Alessio and Alessandro Spada - UK & European Affairs Team.

EU’s response

The European Union has firmly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for an immediate ceasefire, military withdrawal and the respect of Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity.

European institutions have repeatedly denounced Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, especially the indiscriminate attacks towards civilian infrastructures, hence accusing Russia of violating international law. Member states have thus strengthened both individual and economic sanctions against Russia while providing Ukraine with military equipment, humanitarian aid and financial support. For fear of an expansion of the conflict, several European governments have also significantly increased their own military spending.

While the Kremlin’s actions were unanimously condemned, the EU approach was not warmly welcomed by everyone in the European community, including the unconditional military support for Ukraine.

Division within the EU

Three apparent factions have emerged. Northern and post-communist member states fiercely supported Ukraine in the war, fearing a Russian victory that would threaten their national security. Western European countries such as France, Germany and Spain insist on vigorous diplomatic efforts and have adopted a more cautious approach. Lastly, the third bloc is composed of those members who have refused to send weapons and have expressed a rather ambiguous stance on the war, such as Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria.

Among the first group, the Baltic states and Poland have been the most loyal partners of Ukraine for obvious historical and geopolitical reasons.

Baltic states

The firm reaction of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia did not come as a surprise, given their past experiences with invasions and annexations by the Kremlin. Their warnings on the threat posed by Russia in Central and Eastern Europe were mostly ignored or downplayed by their partners and accused of Russophobia by the Kremlin.

The Baltic States substantially increased their military spending and gradually abandoned their dependence on Russian energy after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Since the 2022 invasion, they have actively supported Kiev with military and humanitarian aid as they feel the fate of their nations is tightly linked to Ukraine.

They believe the only way to achieve peace is to help Ukraine win the war and force Russia back to its borders, as stated by Estonian PM Kaja Kallas. In addition, the Baltics have regularly called for stronger EU and NATO action, fearing that their allies would lose the momentum to stop Russia once and for all. As of December 2023, all three Baltic states rank in the top five GDP contributors of government support to Ukraine.

Poland 

Likewise, Poland declared not only full military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine, but also the intention of defeating Russia on all fronts as a way to achieve peace. Growing anti-Russian sentiment is evident among Poles, with a peak of 94% viewing Putin as a serious threat post-Ukraine invasion. This sharp rise has consequently brought to more positive attitudes (around 90%) towards the US, NATO and the EU.

In addition to welcoming over 3 million Ukrainian refugees, the Polish government has also mediated between Ukraine and the US, advocating for adequate protection and high-end military equipment. Moreover, their push for Ukraine's EU and NATO integration has significantly reduced EU criticism regarding the rule of law in Poland.

Nevertheless, recent grain embargo disputes have strained relations with Ukraine, leading to a Polish weapons supply halt and a potentially damaging impact on both nations.

United Kingdom

Despite the UK leaving the EU, it is crucial to also analyse the reaction of the British government given its historical role as a security guarantor in Europe. On November 16, 2023, Foreign Secretary David Cameron reaffirmed support for Ukraine against Putin's aggression. The UK, a leading supporter, provides significant military, humanitarian, and financial aid, ranking as the third-largest donor behind the US and Germany. It was the first to supply cruise missilesand depleted uranium munitions to Kyiv and additionally implemented a series of sanctions against Moscow. The British Government advocates for a shorter Ukraine's path to NATO membership by removing the need for a Membership Action Plan, as a result of the summit held in Vilnius last July. Furthermore, secret talks between UK officials and key Russian representatives have reportedly taken place, discussing security matters such as grain shortages and nuclear safety.

Source: Dusan_Cvetanovic / Pixabay 

France

While President Macron has supported Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict, he has kept a more diplomatic stance in comparison to other European leaders. A few weeks before Russia's invasion, he attempted to dissuade Putin and emphasised avoiding humiliation for diplomatic solutions. During an April visit to China, Macron urged Xi Jinping for a mediation in favour of a return to the “negotiating table”. Despite fewer arms transfers (data from Sept. 26, 2022, to Nov. 30, 2023) to Ukraine compared to some NATO allies, France ultimately backs Ukraine's NATO accession to increase pressure on Russia and pave the way for post-war negotiations.

Germany

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine forced Germany to reassess its role in the world, shifting from "chequebook diplomacy" to increased military involvement. As the second-largest arms supplier (commitments Jan. 24, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2023) of Ukraine after the US, Germany has invested €100 billion in a military fund for modern weapons and committed to meeting NATO's 2% GDP defence spending target. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also encouraged China to use its influence to promote diplomatic solutions. Germany opposes immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, fearing direct conflict with Russia and citing unresolved border conflicts as a hindrance. Additionally, Germany is pushing for a reform plan where the conditions listed must be met in order to initiate a discussion on the membership.

Hungary

As previously mentioned, Hungary has condemned Russian aggression while adopting a questionable approach to dealing with the Kremlin.

Firstly, PM Viktor Orbán decided to abstain from sending military support to Kiev and even agreed on a new gas deal with Moscow a few months after the invasion started. In addition, state-controlled media outlets have continued to spread pro-Russian propaganda, including criticism against the sanctions imposed on Russia. Orban has also recently requested the EU to reassess their strategy in the war while threatening to halt all support to Ukraine.

This peculiar reaction to the Russian invasion reflects the local population as well. According to a recent poll, only 33% of Hungarians consider Russia a major military threat. Another vital figure to mention is the Hungarian perception of the US and Russia: only 17% believe the United States are an important partner, comparable to the 11% that think Russia is. This data openly displays how divergent Budapest’s attitude is from the rest of the EU.

Conclusion

The EU’s unified reaction was initially seen as an opportunity to create a new and common geopolitical strategy. Despite claims of unity, the EU is increasingly divided between those prioritising peace diplomatically and those insisting on justice achieved solely through a Russian military defeat.

This crisis has also exposed the union’s reliance on the US and NATO in terms of defence and intelligence. This is mainly due to the fact that the EU was conceived as a political and economic institution, rather than a military power. However, given that European cohesion has also emerged thanks to continuous information provided by Washington, this poses the risk of condemning Europe to political and military irrelevance. Historical security leaders, such as the UK and France, face several challenges - with Germany expected to play a pivotal role.

Moreover, debates on EU military independence versus complementarity with NATO face growing divisions among member states, evident in recent controversies and wavering support for Ukraine - such as the case of neighbouring Slovakia. The question remains whether the EU can establish an independent defence system amid increasing uncertainties.

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, 20221 Comment

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.