Europe in Transition: What the EU Presidential 2014 Debates Tell Us

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Candidates shown from Left to Right Jean Claude Juncker (EPP), Martin Schulz (SLP), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) and Ska Keller (Greens)


Nine days ago, a truly extraordinary event took place in the modern history of Europe. Four European political leaders stood on a single stage, making the case for why they should be the next President of the European Union. This first debate, the first time a Presidential debate was held on live television for all Europeans to watch, also marks an important point of transition for the European Union as it makes the leap from dominated by purely European Governments to sharing power with its own citizens.

In a debate dominated by the European economy, international security, energy and Euroscepticism, these four represent the diverse interests of 28 different countries and the values of a diverse European community. Jean-Claude Juncker, representing the European People’s Party (EPP), Martin Schulz from the Socialist and Labor Parties (SLP), Guy Verhofstedt of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), and Ska Keller for the European Green Party created a lively evening that, while filled with light humor and political drama, brought the discussions of everyday jobless youth, stagnate economies and uncertain futures to the forefront a crucial election that, for many, is a referendum on the Union’s future.

[Click the following link: As it Happened to view the entire debate]

The Euro Economy: Jobs and Bonds

At the top of the agenda, the economy was a soar subject for each of the candidates. Each was asked by the moderator and by members of the audience about the debt crisis, along with Eurobonds. Martin Schulz (SLP) claimed Europe faced the greatest credit crisis since the 1980’s. He iterated the need for a united European banking and fiscal policy, that can invest in businesses, create jobs and jumpstart the economy. Schulz, along with Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP), were heavily supportive of the Eurobond idea, though rejected it without these strong reforms around European fiscal policy. There conversations in this debate are part of the ongoing, but stalemated discussions over how to facilitate a true push for economic accountability in Europe

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The Debate

Yet economic accountability also brings political accountability and a different of focus on what is most important in regulation. Guy Verhofstedt (ALDE) called for closer relations of European states and creation of common policies for growth and sound public finance. In response to critics of his “European Federalism” idea, Verhofstadt said Europe needed more Common Policies on markets like energy while reducing while reducing internal regulations. “Europe needs a new leap forward in integration,” Verhofstadt claims in order to create new jobs and inspire confidence among people and states. Such considerations have traditionally required healthy relationships between key economic powers, principally France and Germany. The paralysis over closer fiscal union comes from an insecurity by states to hand over coveted national powers, even while they have ceded these authorities overtime to the greater benefit of economic growth, for which the Euro is the defining achievement.

Insecurity is Not Just Economics, its also Guns and Oil

The economic crisis is also related to a question of European insecurity over its own sovereignty in the 21st century. This debate is not only about a transition to popular democracy, but one of how Europe will work with its neighbors, such as resurgent Russia, the Post-Arab Spring Middle East, and the United States. Ukraine was the highlight of the discussion, where critics on all sides claim Europe has been indecisive and weak. Juncker pointed out that “Europe’s strength is in it’s soft power, and we need to pressure Russia through dialogue.” Furthermore it’s linked to a stronger need for Europe to achieve energy independence, an anxiety voiced by Ska Keller when talking about jobs and the looming problems of climate change.

However, the positions expressed by these candidates created the perfect forum for Verhofstadt’s own unique position: restarting discussions on the European Defense Initiative. This issue has been a dead letter since Bosnia and has been addressed through NATO. The Ukrainian crisis may be a signal of a changing shift of attitudes. “If Europe can create a strong security pillar, the European Pillar of NATO, then we can have a stronger, coordinated response rather than a three pronged response to outside issues,” said Verhofstadt. There was division on the issue, with Juncker claiming we need to use the instruments of soft power, such as foreign aid. Yet, each one is appealing to constituencies for a more coordinated European reaction to today’s challenges, and through the EU more frequently than individual member states.

The Greatest Challenge: “The European Solution”

This transition displays one important challenge that the new EU President will face: how to balance the aspirations of EuroDemocracy with the interests of European States. The candidates were each asked how they would balance the conflict between the EuroCouncil and the Commission. Juncker told skeptics that “real power lies with the People and people go to the polls to impose their power.” When asked if the EuroCouncil interferes, Schulz claimed “that we need a strong majority in parliament” to advocate for the people and Europe as a whole, not just governments. His commitment was to become President of all Europeans through election rather than a closed doors election by member states. All candidates did more than demonstrate their qualifications. They expressed their independence with a desire to work towards common positions on important issues.

Whether on fiscal and banking unions, federalism, united foreign policy, Europe has to grapple with the need to balance states’ interest with those of a popularly legitimized Presidency. While Euroscepticism was not addressed directly here, we will pursue it in a future publication, as it deals with with the more personal anxieties of Europeans and the emergence of more volatile local politics surrounding EU integration. Guy Verhofstadt claimed the current EU fulfills the dream of a past president, Jacque Delors, who saw the institution as a future voice of Europe. His closing remarks give tribute to Delors and the spirit of this unique movement:

“I think that what we need to understand that instead of the old recipes we have for the last five years, lets try a new Europe, one that is integrating more. I have one name for that, and it is Jacque Delors.”

It's a crucial year for Europe, as this debate demonstrates

It’s a crucial year for Europe, as this debate demonstrates

 

An Introduction to Humanitarian UAVs and their Many Uses 

A lot discussions about UAVs and Drones focus on military usage, especially with the U.S. military in Pakistan and Yemen. However, this article addresses the humanitarian use of drones in disaster areas, specifically in the Philippines after Tyhoon Yolanda. If you want a basic introduction to humanitarian drone use, read this!

iRevolutions

UAViators Logo

Satellite images have been used to support humanitarian efforts for decades. Why? A bird’s eye view of a disaster-affected area simply captures far more information than most Earth-based data-collection technologies can. In short, birds have more situational awareness than we do. In contrast to satellites, UAVs offer significantly higher-resolution imagery, are unobstructed by clouds, can be captured more quickly, by more groups and more often at a fraction of the cost with far fewer licensing and data-sharing restrictions than satellite imagery.

Introduction to UAVs

There are basically three types of UAVs: 1) the balloon/kite variety; 2) fixed-wing UAVs; 3) rotary-wing UAVs. While my forthcoming book looks at humanitarian applications of each type, I’ll focus on fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs here since these are of greatest interest to humanitarian organizations. These types of UAVs differ from traditional remote control planes and helicopters because they are programmable and intelligent. UAVs can be programmed to take-off…

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The Atlantic or the Pacific? How the Pivot to Asia May Hinder NATO

100415a-HQ28-007 NATO Headquarters Brussels.

The Flag of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)


 

“So I think that is one of the reasons we can face some regional problems, which are very difficult, very dramatic and is necessary to have instruments to solve these problems. NATO is such instrument.” -Aleksander Kwasniewski

When Barack Obama toured the Far East, his challenge was sticking to the script while balancing calls for U.S. attention back to Europe. The Ukrainian Crisis exposed how the Pivot to Asia has created a new foreign policy question: What future awaits the U.S. partnership in the Atlantic, vis-a-vis NATO. Even as the country has attempted to shift its attention to neglected Asian allies, it is being pulled back by countries that have shared strong security commitments in the post Cold War era. “The United States will always be a Pacific country,” stated the President when announcing the strategy to counteract China. Though if we look back at the history of U.S. foreign policy, a different narrative is present and new challenges may present themselves in denying the roots of our history as an Atlantic nation.

The Vital Institution

The last 60 years of U.S. foreign policy, in the spirit of containing global communism, has been focused on Europe and the Atlantic. The North Atlantic Security treaty of 1948 that founded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded as a regional alliance to maintain the peace and security of Europe and as a shield against the Soviet Union and its allies. It remained a silent guardian against the Warsaw Pact and a strong deterrent for military action in Europe following the Second World War. When the walls came down, it even became a medium to integrate the former communist states into peaceful coexistence with the rest of Europe.

The Atlantic Alliance, as NATO has been referred to at times, has been a substitute for the lack of common security policies among the European powers. This large gap in European unity has been filled by the United States, which boasted the economic and military power to initiate the rebuilding of the post-Second World War economy and keep the peace. The alliance allowed European states to focus inwardly, creating the economic community that laid the foundation for the European Community and the future European Union.

Finally, with leadership from the US, it has united European security interests without having to sacrifice national sovereignty over national security. While the European Union and its members have achieved the strongest level of economic integration, they have been slow and ineffective in crafting a Euro-specific security arrangement. The breakup of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian Genocide confirmed these inadequacies in European policymaking, requiring the United States, through NATO, to force a resolution to the conflict. John Mearsheimer said in a 2010 article that:

“I believe that the explanation lies in Europe’s relationship with the United States, which has changed surprisingly little since the Cold War ended. Indeed, one might argue that the trans-Atlantic relationship has grown stronger since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

NATO has been a powerful shield of states, ready to police conflicts around the world and preserve both commerce and security beyond Europe. NATO’s Article 4 responsibility to protect each other in response to attacks was used for the first time when the U.S., after 9/11, pursued a military response to Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. The U.S. also used NATO to spearhead the humanitarian intervention in Libya durng the Arab Spring (2011).

The Pivot Away for Europe

But as times change, politics changes and interests change with new priorities. George Washington, the first U.S. President, said when speaking of the U.S.-French alliance during the outbreak of the French Revolution, that “nations are bound by interests, not friendship.”NATO has come to symbolize not only a security alliance, but a commitment to common friendship and trust in the peace of the Atlantic. But with the U.S. Pivot to Asia and the increasing emphasis of Washington on containing and balancing China as a regional power, many skeptics in Europe believe it is signal of future neglect of this vital institution.

With Russia resurgent as a major regional power, it has created anxiety amongst the eastern members, whose memories of communist rule are fresh in mind. Their call for American troops is born out of this renewed insecurity that has been present, but appeased by an attentive United States and its western allies. These countries, specifically Poland and the Baltic States, were certainly more secure when the missile shield was being installed in their borders. Even now, many western members have grown increasingly skeptical of the alliance’s effectiveness. France has been cynical

Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkal Announce Possible Sanctions against Russia (Picture Courtesy of WBJ)

Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkal Announce Possible Sanctions against Russia (Picture Courtesy of WBJ)

towards NATO since the 1960s and the UK is wary to involve itself in adventures abroad. Germany has only recently began placing harsh sanctions on the table against Russia. The U.S. has a lot to lose if the Pivot overtakes the important implications of Russian victory or even stalemate in Ukraine and the future of Eastern Europe.

A Future Without “Uncle Sam”

Looking at the record, NATO has been the strongest deterrent for major conflicts due to the close cooperation of the US and its European allies. If the Pivot should leave the alliance in a state of salutary neglect, it provides Russia with opportunities to swallow Ukraine’s eastern region and enforce its authority across Eastern Europe. In this game of great power politics, Europe will have to develop a security alternative without the U.S. It will involve a strong Germany and French cooperation, made possible, though strenuous, by the economic future of the EU. But unlike Bosnia, its not a far cry now, especially given Germany’s increased influence in the Union.

This is many years down the road and requires a stronger and more assertive Russia with a less attentive U.S. But American foreign policy is not as strong as it used to be, with one enemy and one priority. Many priorities exist, but Europe should remain at the top. NATO is the crucial link in Atlantic cooperation on security and can still be an effective peacemaker in a world that is more nebulous, dangerous and uncertain than before the Iron Curtain came down.

 

 

Eye’s On the Pearls: Chinese Policy Implications for the Indian Ocean

 

Chinese Freighter carrying cargo in the Indian Ocean

Chinese Freighter carrying cargo in the Indian Ocean


 

The essence of “great power” is the ability to project power beyond their one’s borders upon countries beyond them. Chinese history is famous for being the center of Asian civilization for centuries, where small nations and tribes would give homage to the Emperor’s Court with gifts in return for security. It is also marked by invasions and subjugations of these groups, from Vietnam to Korea and even the Mongol tribes in modern Mongolia. The apex of this prosperity was reached when Admiral Zheng He led an armada of Chinese ships across the South China See and into the Indian Ocean. There, they displayed fabulous riches of the Chinese culture and economic prowess. More importantly, however, they showcased the might of the Middle Kingdom and created the first instance of a great overseas empire, long before the Portuguese, Spanish and British ever founded their colonial empires.

Zheng He

Zheng He

Today’s modern China does not possess a great navy like then. Only recently, in academic, policy and now government circles, have conversations been opened on reconstituting a great navy. Like several of the great naval powers before, China is driven by intense interest protect it’s shores and project power into the Near Seas for strategic defense against outsiders. The central theme is that China is reliving not only the era of Zheng He, but also the lives of past seafaring nations that forged power by gunboat diplomacy and economic imperialism. Ironically, it intensely driven by business,seeking opportunities overseas while pressuring Beijing to protect them. The centrality of history, as Henry Kissenger remarks in On China, is a justification for why China must relive the glory of being a peaceful diplomat for protection, and economic patron. No place is a better example of this strategy than the Indian Ocean.

From Mogadishu to Malacca

China has possessed extraordinary opportunities to challenge the existing international regime by expanding its influence to the Indian Ocean. The region is arguably the most important conduit for international trade in the world. Oil from the Persian Gulf passes east through the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, around India, passing barges of raw materials from China and other Southeast Asian countries bound for the west. The Malacca Strait and several adjoining inlets in Indonesia are the most well trafficked areas of the world for trade, processing more ships and cargo than either the Suez or Panama Canals. They also pose the greatest security risks, especially to maritime piracy that is prevalent in both the South China Sea and the Arabian Sea.

If business is the driver for overseas expansion, than the phenomenon of globalization has thrust China into a position for exerting its own influence on Indian Ocean. Chinese businesses and government aid programs have been involved in local development across the region in places like Sri Lanka, Burma, Pakistan and the Seychelles, according to journalist Geoff Dyer. The most significant business development is the development of an overland pipeline from Ramree, Burma to Yunnan, China, providing an opportunity to ship oil overland and bypass the strait. Ramree is just one of several “pearls” Beijing is eager to cultivate. That eagerness in part is influenced by  Chinese commercial interests that have been steadily gaining influence of policymaking in the Chinese Communist Party.

Ramree Pipeline under Construction

Ramree Pipeline under Construction

While claimed by the Chinese government to be an entirely peaceful and commercial development, it will naturally require military forces to ensure protection of these assets, as past empires have done. Like the British, who used  naval power to caw the Chinese to subservience in the Opium Wars, Beijing will be looking to employ its own naval power to protect its merchants. Today,  China is involved in a number of anti-piracy missions alongside NATO and the United States along the coast of Somalia and the Arabian Sea. Beijing has not long enjoyed a strong navy since the days of  the Ming and should be seeking every opportunity to build the institutional experiences  of its fleets. The addition of the Liaoning, its first fast carrier, is a signal of Chinese intentions to mark economic growth with projection of their own strength. It is still decades away from having the carrier groups and naval prowess possessed by the United States, according to Mark O’Hanlon of Brookings Institute.

The Need for Balance

Strategically, the Indian Ocean is an irresistible opportunity for China to develop an overseas presence as the United States had done in the Far East over the last sixty years. The distractions of the War on Terror and Afghanistan created openings that China has been willing to exploit over the years, including political opportunities to create friends in the region. Pakistan is a case an point, due to the deteriorating relationship with the U.S. and ever present specter of India as a major regional power in South Asia. Finally, most of the countries are not bound by bilateral defense and security agreements that constrain movement and expansion like those that exist in the Western Pacific. We need only look at the current disputes between China and Japan to understand Chinese aggression is directly colliding with an essential U.S. ally.

The United States has been accused of following a containment policy towards China, even by Vietnam and Australia who remain on close ties with both countries. Focusing China’s attention on the Indian Ocean might be advantageous to taking attention away from Japan and the South China Sea. Containing China through the pivot to Asia might attract an international incident, endangering both the stability of the region and U.S.-Chinese economic relations. Allowing Beijing to cultivate their assets in the Indian

The String of Pearls Network of Chinese assets and bases situated throughout the Indian Ocean

The String of Pearls Network of Chinese assets and bases situated throughout the Indian Ocean

Ocean provides breathing space that could pacify Chinese parties clamoring for expansion in the near seas. The military presence required for anti-piracy missions could also be a useful way to test Chinese military intentions and focus them on peaceful policing of the sea lanes. By appeasing economic interests, we can demonstrate our continued willingness to work with, not bow, to Beijing.

President George W. Bush ignored China’s interests in favor pressing the war on terror. Now the Obama Administration is reentering the traditional sphere of American foreign policy, engaging allies that have felt abandoned to a powerful “big brother” figure in China. His visits to ASEAN countries are answering fears of a second Cold War scenario or a repeat of the Ukrainian Crisis with either Senkaku or the South China Sea. An opportunity to deflect Chinese interest in the Near Seas gains time to engage Beijing in a long-term solution for peace in the Far East. Balance of Power politics is about influencing the priorities of other states through some level of deterrence, whether it be by military, political or economic means. To play the great game with China, dangling the pearls of the Indian Ocean on our own terms could serve as a plausible foreign policy tactic for the administration.

Francis Fukuyama on the Future of History

Francis Fukuyama gives a talk to Foreign Affairs about his new book “The Origins of Political Order” and his own beliefs about the Post-Cold War World.

What is most fascinating is that he draws a connection from history to Political Science. States behavior can be explained by their social and historical development, and expresses those experiences in their international behavior. Most importantly, he discusses that with the advent of Globalization, Technology and the example of China, we are coming upon new shifts of direction and value changes not evident at the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, socio-policy or social politics is now becoming more important, as we question the assumptions of post-industrial society (International trade, global capitalism and liberal democracy). However, it is generating a populist backlash from sets of the populations who believed in economic nationalism, social moralism, and isolationism.

Definitely want to watch this video!

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“On March 22, Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose led a conversation with renowned political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama on themes from his decades of research and writing, and the conclusions he drew in a recent contribution to Foreign Affairs, The Future of History.

Watch them discuss the history and future of liberal democracy and the factors–from technology and biomedicine to popular uprisings in the East and socioeconomic disparity–that will determine the arc of humanity.”

Francis Fukuyama’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/FukuyamaFrancis

Francis Fukuyama on Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/author/francis-fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama on the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/francis-fukuyama

Berkley Summary of the Last Man and the End of History: http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~fox/summaries/books/end_history.html

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Moving Forward?: The Future of the Taliban

Hasnain Kazim / Pakistan / De-Radikalisierung

Reconciling former Taliban combatants

 


 

As the first democratic election in the history of Afghanistan comes to a close, with little violence occurring, one question is being asked by outside observers and governments around the world: “Where is the Taliban?” Despite the threats and political jousting to derail the election process and scare voters from the polls, very little action has materialized other than big talk. While it still remains an organized force in eastern Afghanistan, this failure to follow through may be evidence of the group’s decline and gradual loss of influence in Afghan politics. In short, it may not be the big boogie man it used to be.

The decline could also be explained by the gradual and diminishing influence of Al Qaeda and international Islamic jihadism. Though Islamic networks, like the Haqqani Network, continue to fund groups like the Taliban, the group has gradually faded into the broader landscape of local groups that have long carried out violent conflicts against other. The tribal lands of Pakistan are a case and point, as are areas of Afghanistan where rivalries between ethnic groups show tough obstacles ahead for forging a national Afghan identity.

Where has the Power Gone?

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The Afghan-Pakistan Border Conflict

The structure of the terrorist network has long  been a  guerrilla organization that has been  funded by networks of international Islamist organizations. The major example of  Al Qaeda speaks to the first time a guerrilla organization    has been totally funded by private individuals and groups rather than governments. Al Qaeda and the Haqqani   Network not only helped fuel the Taliban insurgency, but continue funding Islamist based extremists in conflict  zones.   From West Africa to Malaysia, to Chechnya and India, their influence  is reflected in the trade of illegitimate money, drugs and small arms trading. Furthermore, these activities, including recruitment of young jihadists, are set up in a system of churches (madrassas), schools and training camps, with participants coming from wealthy Persian Gulf families to refugee camps in Pakistan. Reporter Steve Coll’s account of Al Qaeda and Haqqani’s formation in Ghost Wars demonstrates the first true globalization, that of international terrorism through private means.

That was the 1970s throughout the remainder of the century. The Taliban have used this network to wage war against the US-supported Karzai government . Through links with Pakistani Intelligence (ISI), they have used Pakistan and the US-Pakistani alliance to largely shield themselves from the brunt of US-NATO forces based in Afghanistan. However, the politics of South Asia is fundamentally shifting. There are three reasons why:

  1. The war on terror is coming to an end (whether Washington is willing to admit it or not), as the United States has more pressing priorities in Eastern Europe and the Far East.
  2. Due to the war in Afghanistan, US-Pakistani relations have deteriorated over support of the Taliban, leading to stronger partnerships between the United States and India.
  3. Pakistan is becoming increasingly unstable due to the insurgency, especially as Afghanistan becomes increasingly stable (though not really growing) due to US and European economic and military support.

The Taliban now finds itself in a predicament: to continue their violent struggle is to alienate both governments that now have reason to pacify the Taliban and their benefactors, or destroy them at all costs.

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U.S. Drone in action over Pakistan

Furthermore, evidence has shown that the U.S. drone and special forces campaign in Pakistan’s borderlands has indeed fractured the Taliban’s leadership. The death of senior leaders has created power struggles in the leadership. If an opportunity to reconcile the Taliban with the new Afghan government, now would be the time. Such  action would bring closure to the war and truly mark an impressive transition to peace for the war torn country. However, if the benefactors have turned their eyes to other extremist groups, then a sustained effort may destroy the group while Afghanistan reconstitutes itself and economic growth returns.

Is there a place for the Taliban?

What if the Taliban can reconcile? What will it look like as a   peaceful player in Afghan politics? The living memory of the Taliban in the lives of ordinary Afghans is still fresh and painful. However, many similar post-conflict attitudes have been solved through successful reconciliation processes. Rwanda and Sierra Leone are both strong case studies for such conflicts. Again, successful reconciliation brings closure to a country that needs to move forward, stronger and more confident.

An event like this can only be possible if the United States and the Afghans continue the strong anti-guerrilla war campaign against the Taliban extremists, and, more importantly, the Haqqani Group and other international backers. A 201o report on Haqqani by the American Institute of War concluded that the organization has been resilient in the face of overwhelming strikes by U.S. drones and other tools of counterterrorism. We agree that drone attacks, strengthening the confidence of Southern Afghanistan in the Kabul-based government and continued unilateral intervention in the tribal lands is the best way to finish Haqqani and the remnants of al Qaeda.

Is it in the best interest of the United States? Absolutely! However, its also in the best interests of Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries, where religious-based terrorism is still a fear among leaders and the ruling elite. Successful conciliation is an objective worth striving for. It should not come at the expense of eliminating the Taliban if they continue to play ball with Al Qaeda and Haqqani. The current elections in Afghanistan, along with the changing commitments of US foreign policy provide an opening that should not be passed up.

 

I am a Nationalist

Take a look at this article on Nationalism! It really brings out both the positives and negatives on how we identify ourselves as one group or another. But it definitely should never be a barrier to building understanding between people. Its important, because the challenges we face need everyone, and such action begins with trust!

Geopolitical Mistake: US Troops to Poland

Chuck Hagel and Tomasz Simoniak at the Pentagon

Chuck Hagel and Tomasz Simoniak at the Pentagon


 

Yesterday, Secretary John Kerry and Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov signed an agreement to resolve the Ukrainian Crisis, through de-escalation of the conflict. But today, an announcement from the Pentagon demonstrated U.S. willingness to send troops to Poland and Estonia. In a press conference, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak claimed the move to be a necessary response to the still tense situation in Eastern Europe. “The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a US presence in Europe anymore. Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.” Similar rhetoric was used in Lithuania, a former Soviet Republic that quickly joined NATO upon their independence twenty years ago. President Dalia Grybauskaitė issued a statement, after meetingU.S. Senator John McCain, that “Russia’s actions in Ukraine pose a threat to the security system of… Europe.”

The message being posed by Washington, is to deter Russia from breaking the Geneva Declaration through military show of force. No statement has been made yet that U.S. troops will be deployed to the Baltic. However, the arrival of U.S. troops in Poland maybe seen as expanding the current theatre of conflict. Sure, Putin still has made statements about Novorussiya or New Russia. However, Russian forces massed on the Ukrainian border have not made moves to cross into Eastern Ukraine. While rebels still hold out, the situation is calmer. A shift in stance by Washington could create a larger foreign policy crisis throughout Eastern Europe, and bring greater danger to our NATO allies, including Poland and Lithuania.

A Ukrainian Issue is Now about NATO

Remember that a resurgent Russia has not taken lightly to NATO expansion in the former Soviet Republics. The Georgian Intervention was in part caused by the Bush policy of creating a Missile Defense Shield (MDS) in Eastern Europe. The problems in Ukraine are partially caused by the West’s interest for Ukraine to join the European Community. Russia is also fault for trying make Ukraine a satellite state. Putin’s insistence on incorporating the Russian speaking sections of the country has placed a road block in the path to further negotiation, along with the refusal of protestors in Donetsk to disarm. A local show of military force by the US, such as a naval exercise in Black Sea, would be considered a reasonable response to show the U.S. is not afraid, if military action was needed.

That can hardly still be the case if Russia responds to U.S. troop deployments by moving its own armies to the Baltic or along the Belorussian border with Belarus. It is now an issue of NATO and Russia’s role in policing and protecting those states in Eastern Europe. The geographical scope of the conflict changes, bringing us closer to igniting regional conflicts that were originally thought to happen in a cold war setting in central Europe. It is essentially restarting the Cold War over a local issue that should stay local.

The economic costs are also high. An unfortunate reality for Europe is that most of its energy supplies (oil and natural gas) comes from Russia via Eastern Europe. While war is extreme and hopefully farther off, any escalation that includes NATO could precipitate Russia’s retaliation via cutting off energy. By “flipping the switch” on energy supplies, the European economies will be strained. Attach that to potential demands from Moscow for the withdrawal of troops, the credibility of NATO is at risk when dealing with potential Russian aggression.

The Endgoal

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissenger is arguably the foremost expert on US foreign policy alive today, especially on Russia. When asked in the Washington Post his thoughts on Ukraine, Kissenger has this to say: “Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations… [and] should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people.” As part of that, he urged the United States and the West needs to develop an effective policy on Putin, rather than demonizing him. The US, throughout the Cold War and now, has never been able to connect Russian history and mindset to the actions of its leaders. this in turn leads to turbulent politics and even reliance on our own allies (who are equally belligerent and ignorant) to deal with Russia. Now, Warsaw, Vilnius and Kiev are framing the issue in their terms, threatening the US’ ability to stay true to its own interests.

“Foreign Policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissenger. Moving troops to Poland and Lithuania, at the insistence of our allies, is not the priority. Rather, it is detracting from the main goal of diffusing the Ukrainian Crisis and encouraging reconciliation between parties. It is avoiding the Novorossiya Policy challenge issued by Moscow and setting up a new Cold War scenario. The former Soviet Republics of Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova (even the Baltic states) are the 21st century “Cordon Sanitaire” that keeps Russia divided from the West. That is the direction the current policies are taking the US and our allies.

 

What If We Realized that Food Security Is Homeland Security?

Here’s an issue that hits a little closer home. If we can’t feed ourselves, how can any nation protect itself adequately?

Breastfeeding Medicine

I’m waiting for my flight home from the 1,000 Days U.S. Leadership Roundtable, a spectacular meeting that was held today at the Gates Foundation in Washington, DC. Stakeholders in nutrition and maternal-child health gathered to discuss how we can galvanize support for nutrition during the 1,000 days from conception to age 2. This is the time when our youngest citizens build their bodies and brains, laying the foundation for long-term health. Investing in optimal nutrition during these crucial days improves health and productivity across a lifetime.

For too many of our children, however, this foundation is fractured. Poverty, food insecurity, and commercial pressures prevent moms and babies from achieving their full potential. During the meeting, 1,000 Days executive director Lucy Sullivan shared daunting statistics about the challenges facing children in America. One in eight infants and toddlers in the US lives in deep poverty, defined as less than half the poverty…

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The 600 Years of History Behind Those Ukrainian Masks

Have you always wondered why Russians and even these protestors wore these masks? The article here describes this culture of the mask that goes back centuries, when Russian princes had to hide their true intentions from their outside enemies, including the Mongols. Called the Maskirovka, it even attracted the attention of Ronald Reagan, who commended the Russians on this tactic of espionage and secrecy. A student of the intelligence fields would find this a fascinating insight into the culture of Russian national security, where we are denied even a glimpse of the frontline soldiers.

Even little bits of knowledge like this help us understand a society and country we have very little understanding of. It should be within American interests to build a relationship of understanding Russia, going beyond Vladimir Putin. However, I believe many of us wear “masks” and engage in our own “maskirovka” when looking at our adversaries (and even our friends). Sun Tzu said on the subject: “…to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” These words of wisdom should encourage us to reach out pry off the mask of ignorance. That is the supreme purpose of foreign policy and intelligence.

TIME

The reporter asked the masked pro-Russian separatist in the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk a simple question: why are you wearing a mask?

“I’m sorry,” he responded, “but it’s a stupid question.”

It sure is for anyone who pays attention to how Russia fights.

The mask-wearing militants who have appeared in eastern Ukraine and taken over government buildings represent the latest face of Russia’s tradition of maskirovka (mas-kir-OAF-ka). It’s a word literally translated as disguise, but Russia has long used it in a broader sense, meaning any military tactic that incorporates camouflage, concealment, deception, disinformation—or any combination thereof.

It describes everything from manufacturing tanks in automobile factories to shielding them under tree branches near the battlefield. It can be used to hide soldiers with smoke screens, and to build warships under awnings. It includes sending soldiers in white uniforms to invade snowbound Finland during World War II and creating mock…

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