Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 29.04.16

Massenbach-Letter. News

· Obama’s Farewell Tour * Obama’s Push for a New Transatlantic Relationship

· Dritter Jahrestag der Entführung der syrischen Erzbischöfe Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim und Boulos Yazigi * Robert D. Kaplan: How Islam Created Europe.


· A Major German Exporter Struggles. Daimler’s first-quarter report might be a harbinger of bad news for the EU

· The Japan Times: Australian politics, Japan’s lack of experience behind failed bid to build subs


· China’s Maritime Choke Points * China’s Long March Into Central Asia

· Saudi Arabia Comes to the Rescue of the Egyptian Economy * US Sinai pullback payback for islands handover

· Clean water crisis threatens US

· Serbia Votes to Continue Its EU Integration Path


· John “Thomson-Reuters” Kemp’s recommended reading list on energy.


Massenbach*Obama’s Farewell Tour.

Eight years ago, we watched an American rock star perform on a hot summer day in Berlin. That he was also a young, black politician seemed a revelation to the crowd. They swooned to his lyrics that promised “justice and peace” and “new walls we must tear down.” Europeans believed he was “their” candidate for the U.S. presidency.

Barack Obama is ending his final European tour as president. He still remains a pop icon in some corners and around three-quarters of the public in Great Britain, France, and Germany trust he will “do the right thing in world affairs.” Yet the early wave of enthusiasm in 2008 has waned dramatically. By 2013, the occasion of Obama’s second speech in Berlin was a sweaty, boring affair that was soon marred by revelations of U.S intelligence activities in Europe. Obama’s swan song this weekend in Hannover will likely be bittersweet.

Obama has proven to be a president like many before him. His priorities were shaped by domestic politics and foreign challenges well beyond Europe’s borders, whether it be the turmoil in the Middle East or the rise of Asia. Only the reappearance of an aggressive Russia in Obama’s second term reminded him of what was at stake in Europe. The halting effort to achieve a transatlantic trade deal, which he will again push in Hannover this weekend, has little chance of passing this election year—it is too much, too late.

Europeans also have a nagging suspicion that Obama was never really interested in them. In contrast to their hopes, the relationship with the United States seems mundane and transactional; it is increasingly shaped more by mutual interest rather than empathy. During the Obama administration, long-simmering frustrations emerged in the wake of the financial crisis and the revelations over government surveillance.

However, no American president will “belong” to Europe. Each comes with a unique mix of personal idiosyncrasies, highly-charged political ambition, and an expertise which may or may not include familiarity with other parts of the world. They also inherit the policies and structures of the U.S. government. These parameters and the shifting priorities of the U.S. electorate shape the course of the occupant in the White House.

No single administration in Washington can thus drastically alter the shape and structure of transatlantic relations. That bond is enshrined in our democratic constitutions, networks of economic opportunity, and joint stake in a secure and peaceful world. As the rise of a fear-driven style of politics makes clear, we also share the challenge of sustaining consensus within our societies about these goals. When it comes to foreign policy, the radical change during the Bush administration was more of an exception than a rule.

What is changing, however, is the response to long-standing questions about burden-sharing and responsibility. In the seventy years since the devastation of World War II, Europe has been dependent on the support of the United States. The Obama administration’s intent to quadruple defense spending in Europe in 2017 is a vivid reminder of that legacy. While Europe has evolved into the world’s largest economic entity, it struggles with how to utilize those resources in exercising leadership on a global scale.

Taking advantage of this opportunity remains a stark challenge for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. There are serious fissures in the European Union which may yet undermine decades of efforts to unify the continent. The looming threat of a “Brexit” under Prime Minister David Cameron threatens to unravel the threads of European integration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel—elected three consecutive times since 2005 and Europe’s strongest leader by far—is now under serious duress due to the refugee crisis.

President Obama’s presence in Great Britain and Germany this weekend may be a political boost for both. However, he will attract fewer fans today. The lessons of the past eight years have sobered Europeans and Americans alike in their evaluations of what can be expected from each other. His speech will be an attempt to rekindle that small flame from 2008, balancing his administration’s priorities and showing solidarity with Europe.

The next U.S. president will not sing a much different tune. The tone may shift, but the structure will remain the same. There is simply too much at stake to shrug off the transatlantic partnership. Europeans will be less enthusiastic and have fewer expectations that she or he will be a stellar performer—but that may be a good thing.

Author: Jackson Janes, Parke Nicholson. Published: April 22, 2016.


Russian news.

Militants of the al-Nusra Front terrorist group keep on arriving in the north-eastern regions of the Syrian province of Latakia from the territory of Turkey, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — On Monday, the Russian ministry said the extremists were building up their powers in Latakia’s north-eastern parts. "According to information received from civilians and opposition representatives, militants of Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist grouping continue arriving in north-eastern regions of the Latakia province from territory of Turkey," the ministry said in a daily bulletin posted on its website on Tuesday.


è China’s Long March Into Central Asia ß


  • China’s military role in Central Asia will increasingly focus on arms sales, counterterrorism and bilateral initiatives outside the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
  • The country’s regional security efforts will reflect the need to protect growing Chinese economic interests, including the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Beijing will promote Chinese language instruction in Central Asian countries to mitigate linguistic barriers and boost cooperation.
  • China’s military influence in the region will continue to trail behind Russia’s but will ultimately weaken Moscow’s presence in the long term.


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, an unexplored frontier opened up for China to its west. Central Asia offered Beijing new sources of raw materials and new markets, as well as a major transit zone for exports, to feed China’s growing and globally integrating economy. But China did not have the military means to buttress its economic position, nor did it want to unnerve Russia, a power wary of rising Chinese influence, especially in its former Soviet periphery. With these concerns in mind, Beijing carefully shaped a military and economic strategy for Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Though weak upon independence, the countries retained strong security ties to Russia. Consequently, China opted to promote economic involvement in the region complemented by a subtle, unimposing military engagement, mainly as a courtesy to Russia in exchange for stable Chinese-Russian strategic cooperation.

Internally, China’s economic development was and continued to be skewed. While the east coast industrialized and thrived thanks to its booming manufacturing sector, the western interior remained largely poor and undeveloped. To build up its hinterland, placate its restive Uighur population in Xinjiang province, improve its ties in Central Asia and foster interregional economic links, China sought to expand its economy westward. Not only would the move increase China’s power, but it would also hedge against U.S. and Japanese efforts to contain its expansion east into the Asia-Pacific region.

China worked quickly. Starting in 2008, the country displaced Russia as Central Asia’s largest trading partner and became a major lender and investor, especially in energy. By 2013, China’s trade with the five Central Asian states increased from about $1.5 billion in 2001 to approximately $50 billion, compared with Russia’s $31.5 billion. And even when Central Asian trade fell to $32.5 billion in 2014 because of China’s slowing economic growth, the country still promised the region $64 billion in infrastructure investments. It also announced an additional $46 billion as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to build and expand land and maritime energy, trade and transit infrastructure while offloading China’s excess industrial production capacity.

Furthermore, pipelines, roads and rails traversing the region — many built by China — now bring natural gas, uranium and other resources to the country, which increasingly relies on Central Asia as a trade route to the Middle East and Europe. Meanwhile, Russia’s investments in the region have been lacking, and remittances from Central Asian migrants working in Russia have declined significantly, largely because of Russia’s economic downturn and Western sanctions on Moscow. In short, China’s Central Asian economic strategy is succeeding despite mounting domestic challenges related to slow economic growth.

Military Designs

But this growing regional economic stake has required an expanded security and military role. By 2025, the annual volume of trade between China and countries along the Belt and Road Initiative is projected to be $2.5 trillion, making it crucial that China develop its military and security partnerships worldwide, including in Central Asia. Beijing has sought to boost its counterterrorism and counternarcotics capabilities, provide for security in Xinjiang, mitigate risks resulting from instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and ensure security in the region overall. In these endeavors, China strives, to the best of its abilities, to fill the security gaps that Russia, the United States and other countries are no longer capable of filling.

To that end, China has been quietly ramping up its military influence in Central Asia without upsetting the region’s military balance, which disproportionately favors Russia — for now. Beijing has increased its counternarcotics, counterterrorism and special operations trainings and exercises, both inside and, more important, outside the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). An economic and security body comprising China, Russia and the Central Asian states (except Turkmenistan), the SCO manages cooperation and competition in the region.

Over the years, China has also increased its military aid to Central Asian countries, primarily providing uniforms along with communications and border monitoring equipment. In 2014, China agreed to provide $6.5 million in military assistance to Kyrgyzstan and promised hundreds of millions of dollars to Tajikistan for uniforms and training. Similarly, in 2016 China agreed to send almost half a billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan’s armed forces. Since 2002, it has also participated in more than 20 bilateral or multilateral military exercises with the Central Asian republics. Between 2003 and 2009, China hosted 65 Kazakh officers in addition to 30 Kyrgyz and Tajik officers in 2008.

Moreover, as it continues its military modernization, China is poised to transfer more decommissioned military assets to these countries. Central Asian states covet such transfers, especially since interoperability issues with Russian weapons persist. In 2013, for example, reports surfaced that China had delivered unmanned aerial vehicles and medium- and long-range HQ-9 air defense systems to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in exchange for reduced natural gas prices. If the reports are accurate, this transaction represents a major first step toward China’s goal of becoming a viable global manufacturer of sophisticated, higher-end weapons systems.

Yet in the past few years, China and Central Asian states have agreed to enhance bilateral armed forces cooperation even further, with a view to protecting China’s regional investments and supply networks, especially along the Belt and Road Initiative. Some of these emerging frameworks do not involve Russia — a sign of China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy. In March, Beijing and Dushanbe reportedly discussed opening a joint counterterrorism center in Tajikistan. China also proposed a counterterrorism mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan to promote regional security in the face of militant threats, including those from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. As regional opportunities grow, criminal organizations and militants will spread out more and engage in disruptive activities, making it important for China and its Central Asian partners to safeguard their economic and security interests.

Barriers to Cooperation

Nonetheless, China’s regional military influence still trails far behind Russia’s. Unlike Russia, China does not have military bases in the region, nor has it declared any intention to establish them. Beijing reportedly considered opening a military base in southern Kyrgyzstan, but both Bishkek and Beijing denied the claim. This is not to dismiss suggestions that China could take unilateral military action in the region to contain militancy. If the Chinese military were to intervene, it would be to protect Chinese citizens working on the numerous economic projects in the region, safeguard energy and supply networks, or address security risks arising from a state’s potential collapse.

But China is simply unable to deploy and sustain its military forces overseas for extended periods, and, regardless, it cannot rival Russia’s powerful and entrenched presence in Central Asia. Furthermore, heads of state in Central Asia are suspicious of China’s economic and future military role, worrying that the country seeks to dominate the region. Additionally, different doctrines, weapons systems and language barriers constrain interoperability and cooperation with Central Asia. To overcome the linguistic hurdle, at least, China is funding the establishment of Confucius Institutes and language study programs in universities across the region.

As Beijing steadily expands its regional military influence in Central Asia, it will focus on arms sales, counterterrorism and bilateral initiatives, many outside the confines of the SCO. Protecting its economic interests will be an especially notable component of its strategy. And though Moscow has a military advantage in the region over Beijing for now, China’s efforts will undermine Russia’s economic and military influence in the long term, potentially derailing the two countries‘ strategic partnership in the process.


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* 2016 SECURITY JAM – From a need-to-know culture to a need-to-share one!

By Katrin Suder in Strategic foresight and earlier-warning Apr 26, 2016 …

Allow me a first thesis to broaden the context for our conversation: We live: a) in a global, digitalized/interconnected world, and b) security-wise, in a “new normal”, with many crises and challenges.

Strategic foresight & early warning are crucial for all members of society – public organizations, companies and individuals – in order to be safe and to grow! IT/Digitalization have changed our world and, I would contend, will become determinant … my second thesis: new methods of innovation, information and change management are crucial for the security environment, too. We need to implement them into the security and military domain … We need to move from a need-to-know culture to a need-to-share one!

Transparency is good, exchange and discussions are vital! … From government only to an inclusive approach including open source/social media and especially companies and their insights. From each nation duplicating the same things to a truly multinational approach. But this means we all have to give up certain elements to gain in sum. I know this means substantial change, but we all know a lot of companies who missed that – and no longer exist. This is no option for us! … I strongly believe if we don’t come into a new regime of transparency, we will not be successful, because information is already available and out there (social media etc.).

We are just not participating enough in this world. We need a change of mind … I personally think that we need the new methodologies you mentioned for threat intelligence, especially by using big data and (!) advanced analytics … All technologies have the potential to be abused or misused.

This should not stop us, however, from leveraging the positive potential of it. At the same time, we have to (and Germany does so) engage in dialogue to preserve our values of freedom, human rights and rule of law! …


Clean water crisis threatens US.

The United States is on the verge of a national crisis that could mean the end of clean, cheap water. Hundreds of cities and towns are at risk of sudden and severe shortages, either because available water is not safe to drink or because there simply isn’t enough of it.

The situation has grown so dire the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to national security alongside terrorism.

The problem is being felt most acutely in the West, where drought conditions and increased water use have helped turn lush agricultural areas to dust.

But dangers also lurk underground, in antiquated water systems that are increasingly likely to break down or spread contaminants like lead.

The crisis gripping Flint, Mich., where the water supply has been rendered undrinkable, is just a preview of what’s to come in towns and cities nationwide, some warn.

“We are billions of dollars behind where we could and should be,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who spent 12 years on a municipal water board before running for state office. “People in the clean-water world would tell you they’ve been shouting about this for a long time.”

“For much of the U.S., most people don’t perceive any shortage,” he added. “But we’re going to talk a lot about shortages now.”

‘A huge problem nationwide’

Perhaps the single biggest threat to the water supply, experts say, is the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Across the country, water is flowing through pipes that are long past their expiration date.

Some of the oldest pipes still in use, built from cast iron in the late 1880s, were expected to last about 120 years. Newer pipes, built during the post-World War II boom, were designed to last about 75 years.

“It’s a huge problem nationwide,” said Erik Olson, director of the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “A lot of [the water infrastructure is] now 100 years old or more. We haven’t been taking care of it.”

“Flint is just one example, but there are literally thousands of systems across the country that are having serious compliance problems, serious lead problems,” he added.

In 2001, a report from the National Water Works Foundation predicted an “inexorable rise in infrastructure replacement needs” in water systems if they were not replaced.

In the next 20 years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the total cost of revitalizing water pipes and treatment plants would run about $384 billion.

The American Water Works Association’s estimates are even higher.

The nonprofit group says the cost of just maintaining current systems and fitting them to the needs of a growing population would require $1 trillion over 25 years. Without that funding, customers will see drastic changes in their water services, including increased risks of lead contamination.

While the price tag is daunting, advocates and lawmakers argue the costs of inaction are far greater.

“The first reaction we always get when we talk about going big on infrastructure is ‘who’s going to pay for it.’ We all pay for it if we don’t invest,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint.

“The Flint case makes it clear that there are real human and tangible consequences of our failure to deal with water infrastructure,” he added.

Lead risks

Lead water pipes were prevalent in the United States until the late 1980s, when the EPA first started setting policies to prevent lead from getting into public water systems.

Huffman, a two-term congressman serving on the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the Flint water crisis should spur officials around the country to test their systems, even if they’re afraid of what they’ll find.

“We have to build on the increased awareness that we have right now and really go around the country and go to communities where there is a reasonable possibility of this kind of contamination and do the testing and ask the hard questions,” Huffman said.

Not every city has turned a blind eye to the problem.

Leaders in Madison, Wis., began replacing lead pipes almost immediately after the EPA tightened lead standards in 1991. The project cost $15.5 million and spanned 11 years, ultimately resulting in the removal of 8,000 lead water pipes, according to NPR.

Similarly, the city of Wichita, Kan., is about to complete a decade-long project to replace about 1,500 lead service pipes with copper or plastic. Public works teams replaced between 100 and 200 per year, with each pipe costing about $1,200.

Other cities are eyeing similar strategies. Lansing, Mich. — about 60 miles away from Flint — unveiled a plan this spring to replace its lead pipes.

One burst at a time

Local governments are also grappling with the problem of pipes bursting and leaking.

Water main breaks are becoming more common, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which estimated that there are about 240,000 each year.

In a few spots in the U.S., including South Dakota and Washington, some people are reportedly relying on wooden pipes.

Some of the water main breaks have caused massive damage to surrounding areas.

The city of Troy, N.Y., declared a state of emergency in January 2016 after a water main break flooded several streets and distrusting life in several neighboring towns. The year before, the town of Brockton, Mass., was forced to close schools and limit hospital services as it raced to fix a pipe that had burst.

In 2009, the mayor of Warren, Mich., called a state of emergency after the town suffered 107 breaks in one month and needed to call in out-of-town workers.

When the breaks occur, little is done beyond patching the broken lines.

Olson, of the NRDC, said that if water lines continue to be replaced at the current rate, it will take 200 years to replace all of them.

In the meantime, more lead problems are likely. The school district in Newark, N.J., recently replaced water fountains with bottled water after finding unacceptably high levels of lead in the tap water.

Jeff Griffiths, a Tufts University public health professor and former chairman of the EPA’s drinking water committee, predicted more communities would be finding lead in school water.

“The bubblers, the fixtures that are there, might well have lead in them,” he said.

Worsening droughts

Some parts of the country have a bigger problem than corroding pipes: there is simply a lack of water.

While the drought conditions in California have received the lion’s share of media attention, the problem is widespread. In 2014, water managers in 40 out of 50 states said they expected a water shortage that year, according to a federal watchdog report.

The scarcity is only expected to get worse.

A study last year by NASA asserted that climate change could increase the risk of decades-long “megadroughts” that could make entire regions of the country nearly uninhabitable. The droughts, NASA warned, could last for as long as 35 years.

And even if greenhouse gas emissions were entirely eliminated by the middle of this century, the chance of a megadrought would remain over 60 percent, NASA said.

The risks are particularly high in the Southwest and Central Plains, where booming cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are surrounded by desert.

The problem persists despite a significant decline in America’s water use since 1980, thanks to more efficient water systems in homes and offices and on farms.

Officials in charge of public water supplies say new water-saving technologies are within reach if the government makes funding a priority.

Earlier this year, the White House called for $25 million for desalination research to make the process of turning salt water into drinking water cheaper and more efficient.

But many are skeptical that seawater is the answer. In addition to its immense costs and energy requirements, draining the oceans could have disastrous consequences for marine life.

One alternative could be reusing wastewater, which is happening now at a plant in Orange County, Calif., that opened in 2008. The facility takes wastewater from the sanitation department and purifies it into drinking water.

“I do see climate change and decreasing amounts of water meaning that water is going to need to be reused,” said Griffiths, the Tufts professor.

Battle in Congress

Federal lawmakers have sought to address the water issue but have made little headway.

One of the biggest bills on water scarcity to come before Congress recently dealt with drought relief for California.

A bill that passed the House last year, spearheaded by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), would have authorized two water storage projects that Republicans say are long overdue. It called for a new system of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts to help move water from California’s wetter areas to its dryer ones.

That bill went nowhere in the Senate, where California’s Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein pushed for a dramatically different set of remedies.

The Democrats’ plan calls for new desalination, efficiency and recycling projects, which they argue would be more reliable in the long term, even if it wouldn’t be satisfactory to California’s agricultural interests.

“Obviously there is a real conflict of visions, and we understand the, shall we call it, philosophy, that more water is just growth-inducing and they don’t want to see growth,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who helped move the House bill, said in a recent interview.

“It’s not as though we don’t have a blueprint or strategy to deal with the problem. It’s the blocking and tackling that’s done at the federal agencies or Gov. [Jerry] Brown’s,” Royce said.

Work on the drought legislation remains at an impasse.

The end of cheap water?

If water companies don’t see funding from the government to fix water infrastructure, they could force their customers to pick up the tab.

The American Water Works Association estimates that in the hardest-hit areas, families’ water bills could triple.

“In order to achieve progress toward clean water goals and simultaneously sustain the existing water infrastructure, user rates will have to continue to increase,” the U.S. Conference of Mayors said in a 2013 report.

Part of the challenge going forward, experts say, is that water is almost entirely managed, delivered and paid for at the local level.

The federal government has some oversight power to ensure cities and towns are meeting standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the programs are modest, and the funding has been slashed dramatically.

For cities like Flint, which suffered from the recession more than the average town, the water problems were compounded.

Mick Bullock, government affairs director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said local water managers are in a “really rough place” as they try to keep their systems from falling apart.

“They don’t really have the money to do what Congress requires them to do; they really rely on state and locals to do their jobs for them,” he said.

“If that doesn’t happen, it’s the EPA that gets yelled at.”

****************************************************************************************************************** Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* Friedman: China’s Maritime Choke Points*

There is widespread interest in the rising tensions over the waters east of China. China has become increasingly assertive in the region, and regional powers from Japan to Singapore have become alarmed at China’s behavior. The Chinese recently built an island in the South China Sea, apparently as a potential airbase. The United States sent a carrier battle group there as well. For all the activity and discussion, it is not clear that people really understand what all this is about. This week’s map will help clarify the situation.

Geopolitical Futures logo

China's Maritime Choke Points

There are two seas to the east of China – the East China Sea to the north and the South China Sea to the south, with Taiwan positioned in between. Air and naval forces based in Taiwan are, at least in theory, able to prevent movement between the two seas. The Taiwan Strait is fairly narrow and movement by the Chinese to Taiwan’s east forces China to pass near the Philippines to the south, or through the Ryukyu Islands to the north. Passage through the Ryukyu Islands could be blocked by hostile naval forces or by land-based aircraft and missiles.

Therefore, China has a naval problem. It must assume that in war, it will have two different maritime theaters of operation, the East and South China seas, and will have difficulty moving forces from one to the other. Consequently, it needs a strong navy.

There is an identical problem in both seas. They are surrounded by archipelagos of islands that isolate the seas from the Pacific and, therefore, from the rest of the world. The islands of the Philippines and Indonesia create narrow passages into the Pacific and Indian oceans. Java, Borneo and Mindanao are the frame of this system of islands, while the space between them is filled with randomly distributed smaller islands. Compounding China’s problem, the interior of the South China Sea is also filled with small islands.

Any of these islands can house hostile air and missile forces, while the narrow spaces in between can be blocked by naval forces. China doesn’t have guaranteed access to the islands on the periphery of this system. To gain access, it must control a wide passage through the South China Sea, and having done that, force its way through the narrow straits surrounding it. Assuming that the United States would position its carrier battle groups in the east and south of the outer frame, the Chinese would first have to clear the interior of the South China Sea and then fight their way through narrow choke points that the U.S. could make impassable.

The same situation exists in the East China Sea. The Ryukyu Islands are scattered between Taiwan and Japan and stand as sentinels, with narrow passages between them. There is no system of interior islands here, as there is in the South China Sea, but the approach of Chinese warships would be visible from the moment they sortied from port, and would be subject to air and missile attack throughout their approach to exits.

From the map, you can see what the Chinese concern is. China is a trading power that depends on its access to the world’s oceans. Geography has created a barrier for Chinese ships and it would be relatively easy for this barrier to be sealed by a major naval power. Therefore, a blockade imposed by a power such as the United States could cripple China. It follows that a core Chinese imperative is to create guaranteed passage through the barriers. To do that, China would have to take control of the islands around the frame, hold them to prevent air attacks and use them for land- and sea-based missiles to keep an enemy fleet far to the east or deter a blockade in the first place.

Therefore, it is clear why the Chinese care so much about the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea. Until they can guarantee that these islands are not controlled by hostile forces, their ability to create a Chinese-controlled channel through the islands framing the South China Sea is limited. They need to clear the islands both to allow themselves access and to deny anyone the ability to use the islands to cripple operations in the first place. The Chinese are trying to take the first step in guaranteeing their access to the global sea lanes.

The same problem exists in the East China Sea, but as with the South China Sea, conducting combined amphibious, naval and air operations to take control of the Ryukyu Islands is extremely difficult. But if you look at the map, you can see where the crucial breakpoint would be: Taiwan. Holding Taiwan would allow access to two substantial lanes for maritime movement to the north and south and allow an air force to be based on the island. This would eliminate the choke point in the Taiwan Strait, allowing the northern and southern fleets to merge and bring in reinforcement as needed. The Chinese obsession with Taiwan is historical and political. But it is also driven by strategic considerations because of concerns over a possible blockade, whether through political or military means.

China’s naval forces remain inadequate for conflict with the United States. The Chinese have adopted an interim strategy of using air- and land-based anti-ship missile systems to keep the U.S. Navy far to the east and south of the choke points. But these missiles are vulnerable to U.S. air and missile suppression. Therefore, the Chinese are combining them with naval operations intended to intimidate regional nations from working with the United States. As we see in the Philippines, these operations have had the opposite effect. But from the Chinese point of view, this does not change the geographic reality and therefore cannot be seen as a failure, but merely reinforcing the core strategic reality.

One alternative option for the Chinese, if they are unable to mount amphibious operations, is to return to a strategy from the 1960s and use support for insurgencies in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to create political shifts that would eliminate major threats to Chinese movements. But such insurgencies could force an increase in U.S. naval presence in the region.

A look at this map reveals both Chinese concerns, Chinese motives and the difficulty of the Chinese position. It also shows why the use of a carrier battle group in the South China Sea by the United States was important. The Chinese problem is geography, and the geography of its eastern seas does not favor them.

The Japan Times: Australian politics, Japan’s lack of experience behind failed bid to build subs

Apr 26, 2016

In a stunning reversal of fortunes, Japan — the onetime front-runner in the multibillion-dollar tender to build Australia’s next-generation submarine — failed in its bid to assemble the vessels, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Tuesday.

Turnbull said the submarines will be built in Australia by France’s state-controlled naval contractor DCNS. (and ThyssenKrupp neither, UvM)

“Defence Department experts were unequivocal — the French offer best represented the capabilities needed to meet Australia’s unique needs,” Turnbull said at a news conference.

The announcement, which came after media leaks revealed last week that Japan had effectively been eliminated from the bidding process, throws the future of Tokyo’s fledgling weapons-export program in doubt.

But the biggest question remains: How did Japan go from first to worst?

According to experts, a perfect storm of factors helped sink the deal, which would have been Japan’s first large-scale weapons export agreement in decades after the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved new rules in April 2014, ending an almost 50-year self-imposed ban on the practice.

While media reports had played up technological risks in buying Japan’s Soryu-class subs to replace its aging Collins-class vessels, experts said Australia’s domestic politics — with an election slated for July — likely played a more deciding factor.

“I think we cannot deny that domestic politics played a role, given the timing of the sub decision,” said Corey Wallace, a security policy analyst at the Graduate School of East Asian Studies at Freie Universitat, Berlin.

For Turnbull, who touted a mantra of “Australian jobs and Australian steel” during Tuesday’s news conference in the South Australian shipbuilding hub of Adelaide, the rapidly changing political environment was key, “given the difficulties the current administration might have in the state during the election,” Wallace said.

With the French pick, he secured firm promises that work on the subs would be done domestically with domestic materials — all ahead of the key poll.

Turnbull is “now concerned about the elections,” said Teruhiko Fukushima, a professor at the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and an expert on Australia. “He wanted to directly tell people in Adelaide that he will bring many jobs there.”

Fukushima also said that the selection of the French sub will not greatly affect Canberra’s defense cooperation with Japan and the United States.

The U.S., which has slashed its military budget, has been pushing for Japan and Australia to take on more of the operational burden in the Asia-Pacific region. This is considered a key reason that Washington had reportedly offered tacit support for Japan’s bid to produce submarines.

Fukushima pointed out that Australia’s policy to promote trilateral defense cooperation has already been clearly written into its policy papers — a stance the French selection is unlikely to affect.

“Japan shouldn’t think that it was betrayed by Australia,” Fukushima said. “The trilateral cooperation framework won’t be changed.”

Indeed, despite Japan’s defeat, Turnbull vowed Tuesday to continue to strengthen ties with Japan and the U.S.

“Both Prime Minister Abe and I . . . are thoroughly committed to the special strategic partnership between Australia and Japan, which gets stronger all the time,” Turnbull said. “We are committed, too, to our strong trilateral strategic engagement between Japan, Australia and the United States.”

Although China and its bellicose moves in the South China Sea had featured prominently in media coverage of the bid, analysts said the role of Beijing, which bristled at the idea of bolstered trilateral cooperation, remained unclear.

Technological concerns, meanwhile, were unlikely to have played an outsized role in the decision, retired Maritime Self-Defense Force Vice Adm. Masao Kobayashi said.

Kobayashi, who commanded Japan’s submarine fleet from 2007 to 2009, believed there were no major technological issues with the Soryu, which is often touted as one of the world’s quietest and most advanced non-nuclear submarines.

But both Japanese bureaucrats and defense companies were “slow” in promoting the Soryu and were not as enthusiastic as their French and German rivals, Kobayashi said.

“Japan is a ‘novice’ in the arms-export business,” he said. “They don’t have much experience.”

Kobayashi also pointed out that the two Japanese firms producing submarines for the MSDF, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, currently have resources appropriate only for the domestic production of submarines.

That may have been another reason Japan’s defense industry was not desperate to sell the Soryu overseas, he added.

Japan’s Defense Ministry, as well as the MSDF, was also less than enthusiastic about the transfer of sensitive submarine technology — the crown jewels of Japan’s naval force — even to a U.S. ally, said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.

The sub foray “was led by the political leadership,” Kotani said, in reference to Abe.

While Abe had strongly pushed for the submarine deal, there was still a clear sense that the Japanese camp’s lack of experience could prove a liability for Australia.

“The Japanese government had attempted to assure Australia that it would fit in with its program and needs, but such assurances lacked the detail that its more experienced competitors provided,” said Wallace.

“The political enthusiasm expressed by the Abe government could not make up for — or perhaps compounded — the sense that Japan would be feeling through the manufacturing process as it went along,” he said. “The French bid, on the other hand, was clear on the process and promised the most jobs.”

Concerns about an alleged “secret deal” for the subs between Abe and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had also apparently been festering since at least last September, when Abbott was ousted from the leadership post.

Australian media had reported that Abbott and Abe, who had close personal ties, privately agreed in 2014 that Japan would get the contract. Both sides denied the existence of such a secret deal.

In response to criticism, Abbott hastily put together the so-called Competitive Evaluation Process to lend the tender more transparency, but soon after was ousted in a party coup, said Sam Roggeveen, a security expert at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

“And so the favoritism that Mr. Abbott had shown toward the Japanese bid dissolved along with his demise as leader,” Roggeveen said.

“This meant the Japanese bid had to win on its technological and capability merits, and that the strategic considerations — which were at the core of Mr. Abbott’s thinking and also at the core of the Japanese case for winning the contract — became less important under the new prime minister.”

Had Tokyo been selected, the 56 billion Australian dollar ($43 billion) contract would have been a huge boon for Japan as it pushes for joint defense development with other countries under the new guidelines for the transfer of defense equipment and technology.

But ultimately, the lost bid may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Japan.

“Manufacturing subs off the shelf would have been an interesting opportunity for Japan,” Wallace said. “But as the project evolved to co-manufacturing with an Australian company with a less than stellar implementation history, it may have avoided a potentially not very profitable bullet in losing out on this project.

“It also gets to keep peace of mind in terms of continuing to protect sensitive technologies,” he added.

Obama’s Push for a New Transatlantic Relationship

U.S. President Barack Obama has only nine months left in office. He now seems a man in a hurry. During his visit to Europe

on April 21–25, he made a big pitch for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would

radically change the functioning of trade between European and U.S. companies.

Speaking in the German city of Hannover, where he opened one of the world’s biggest trade fairs, he told German Chancellor

Angela Merkel and scores of leading company executives how time was slipping by to clinch this trade deal. “If we don’t complete

negotiations this year, then upcoming political transitions in the United States and Europe would mean this agreement won’t be

finished for quite some time,” he said.

Obama’s pitch is long overdue. TTIP is not only about establishing a trade deal that would set crucial standards for how business

is conducted. It is also about underpinning if not reviving the West’s liberal economic order, which is coming under massive pressure

from ..particularly China….

A weakened Europe and a weakened transatlantic relationship are to China’s benefit.

Second only to the United States in terms of economic power, China is making a big bid to set new trading standards through

its sheer size and political ambitions.

Beijing’s huge investments in Africa and Latin America are about seeking allies to assert its authority and influence on the global


That is why TTIP matters. If the deal does not go ahead, the West will have lost a major chance to regain its influence and set

trading standards for the coming decades.

Above all, Europe and the United States will have lost the opportunity to build a new transatlantic relationship,

as the old one, built from the carnage of World War II, increasingly lacks the strategic importance and direction that it once had.

Despite the political and strategic significance of TTIP, European leaders have shied away from speaking out in favor of the deal.

Merkel has rarely weighed in on an issue that has so far been successfully hijacked by a highly organized anti-TTIP campaign, n

ot just in Germany but across Europe.

Hours before Obama’s arrival in Hannover, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against TTIP.

Critics of TTIP insist that only big corporations will be the winners, that the United States will reap most of the benefits, and that

consumers across Europe will be affected by lower standards when it comes to food protection and social issues.

Tell that to Germany’s Mittelstand, the medium-sized companies that are the backbone of the country’s economy.

The German mechanical engineering industry, for example, ships more than €16 billion ($18 billion) of goods each year to the

United States.

But don’t think a gadget made in Germany can be sold in its original form to a U.S. retailer. “We have to replace our EU plugs

with US plugs, even though they essentially look the same, have the same safety characteristics and perform the same function,”

said Carl Martin Welcker, vice president of the German Mechanical Engineering Industry and managing partner of Alfred H. Schütte,

a machine tool factory.

“We are not just talking about plugs. We use the metric system to standardise our threads, whereas the USA measures in inches –

so we have to change the threads in certain safety pipes,” he added. “The EU and the USA even have different requirements when

it comes to the content of operating instructions. We end up producing the same machine twice, only differently. We have to buy

materials twice, store materials twice.

Machines have to be tested twice and approved twice.”

Just imagine the extra costs if a European company wants to enter and compete in the U.S. market. TTIP would do away with these

different standards, in turn creating more jobs for European companies—and cutting production costs.

These benefits are rarely articulated, just as the long-term strategic implications of TTIP are almost never discussed.

Instead, TTIP has become associated with populist, Euroskeptic, and antiglobalization movements. And there is more than a

tinge of anti-Americanism, as Obama surely sensed during his visit to London on April 22–24.

Indeed, his public support for Britain to remain in the EU and his pleading for European leaders to support TTIP were really

about the United States wanting a stronger Europe and a revitalized transatlantic relationship.

Unless there is a major shift across Europe in the coming months, Obama’s bid to clinch what would be a historic trade deal

will elude him.

China will no doubt be relieved.


A Major German Exporter Struggles. Daimler’s first-quarter report might be a harbinger of bad news for the EU.

Germany’s export-dependent economy is highly vulnerable as China slows down and a crisis of exporters unfolds. Last week, all eyes were on Volkswagen as the German company reached a preliminary agreement with the U.S. government following its emissions cheating scandal. The company has to pay $18.28 billion as a result of the scandal and might end up facing even higher costs. Nevertheless, it is the financial status of another German automaker, Daimler, that points to an even more serious problem for Germany’s economy. Daimler’s first-quarter report indicates that German exporters may be struggling to adjust to a global economic slowdown and may be using unsustainable business choices to keep export volumes high in the near term.

According to the World Bank, exports amount to about 45 percent of Germany’s GDP. Last year, Germany was somewhat able to compensate for falling demand in economies like China with increased exports to European markets and the U.S., as well as with domestic demand. But there are now growing indications that domestic demand and exports to alternative destinations are no longer shielding Germany from the global exporters’ crisis. Official data from Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs has shown that in February factory export orders fell 2.7 percent compared to the previous month. Notably, orders from the rest of the eurozone fell by 3.7 percent. Domestic orders rose merely 0.9 percent. At the same time, German businesses are beginning to grasp the extent of the challenges facing the country’s economy, with a business climate index compiled by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research showing that confidence has fallen for four out of the past five months.

Daimler’s quarterly report, published on April 22, signals that German exporters may be failing to avoid the problems plaguing other global exporters and are possibly using short-term tactics to mask the full extent of their troubles. The report reveals that, while unit sales rose by 7 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the previous year, revenues increased by only 2 percent. At the same time, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) fell by 26 percent year-on-year and net profit decreased by 34 percent. This shows a divergence between the company’s sales performance and its financial state. Daimler presented several reasons for the decline in EBIT, including low sales volumes for Mercedes’ S-Class and E-Class models and exchange rate fluctuations. Nevertheless, these challenges do not fully explain why the company’s revenue growth is not keeping up with sales growth. Mercedes Benz still sold 8 percent more cars by volume in the first quarter of this year than the previous year, and adjusted for exchange rate, Daimler’s overall revenue grew by only 4 percent.

It is possible that the discrepancy is due in part to Daimler selectively slashing prices or using other short-term tools to keep sales up as global demand slows down and the company’s financial prospects worsen. For example, while Daimler does not publish official global pricing statistics and offers a variety of pricing options across different markets, China’s economic troubles have led carmakers in the Chinese market – both domestic and foreign – to slash prices. Economic challenges may also be changing consumer preferences when choosing among Daimler brands.

The gap between Daimler’s sales figures and its revenues is significant because it raises the possibility that German exporters are facing a more difficult business environment than what Germany’s official trade statistics imply. Trade statistics are compiled over time and sometimes mask key shifts, while company-level figures for important exports can at times provide early warning signs that macro data misses or has yet to reflect. Germany’s exporters are major sources of employment, as well as investment and tax revenues. In the short term, sacrificing net profits in order to compete for market share in a difficult business climate may be a useful tactic. However, we do not expect Chinese demand to revive or for the exporters’ crisis to recede any time soon. As a result, layoffs, cuts in funding for investment and innovation, and lower tax contributions to the German government will follow if German companies like Daimler begin experiencing regular decreases in net profits.

With nearly half of Germany’s economy dependent on exports, the impact of falling profits will reverberate not only inside Germany, but across the European Union. Germany is Europe’s economic powerhouse, and its economy and banking sector are closely intertwined with those of other European Union members. Germany is a major investor across the bloc. Moreover, several countries, especially in Central Europe, are heavily tied to the German economy because they export car parts and other components that are used in German exports. As a major EU economy, Germany contributes disproportionately to the EU’s budget. In 2014, according to the European Commission, Germany contributed 14 billion euros more to the EU budget than it received from the bloc. A crisis of German exporters would not remain merely a German problem for long, but would quickly become a European problem. Europe is already very divided, and economic challenges are mounting in Italy, Greece and elsewhere. A crisis in Germany would exacerbate both the political and economic fragmentation of the continent.

Germany’s future economic stability and position on the Continent depend in large part on the financial well-being of the country’s exporters. It remains to be seen whether German exporters other than Daimler are maintaining export volumes while experiencing shrinking net profit rates. Export volumes are important to watch, but the underlying financial health of major exporters is key.


Middle East

Saudi Arabia Comes to the Rescue of the Egyptian Economy.

The Arab Spring uprising left Egypt with an assortment of leaders and an uncertain future. After the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the Egyptian economy fell into a sustained decline. Soon after the Mubarak era ended, Mohamed Morsi began a short-lived reign that ended with his ousting in July 2013.

Saudi Arabia was vital in the military ouster of Mohamed Morsi, and it has been a firm supporter of the new government of Egypt, led by military leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Since the destabilizing events of the Arab Spring, Egypt has faced major disruptions to the foundation of its economy. Foreign reserves (including gold) fell from $36 billion USD in December 2011 to $14.4 billion USD in July 2012.

In the wake of Egypt’s economic collapse, the government of President El-Sisi has increasingly been supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, all of whom immediately committed $12 billion to Egypt to halt the systemic burn on its foreign reserves and meet its economic obligations. To this day, Saudi Arabia continues to support the Egyptian regime in an effort to prevent further economic and political unrest. At the end of 2015, Saudi Arabia committed an additional $8 billion to Egypt in investment and financial aid over 5 years.

Aid and loans are not the only form of financial support to Egypt; Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have filled a mounting gap in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt as well. In the June 2014/2015 annual period, Arab countries increased FDI by 52% to $2.3 billion. Net FDI in Egypt reached its highest in 2007 with $11.6 billion, only to plummet to a new FDI outflow of $500 million in 2011. And though Egypt entered an uncertain period in terms of FDI from 2012-2013, the country has since reached near-highs with an expected $8-$10 billion of FDI in the June 2015/2016 annual period. Egypt’s investment minister, Ashraf Salman, expects Egypt’s economy to grow at 5% provided the country receives a minimum of $10 billion in FDI annually.

The Saudi Royal Visit and Egypt’s Energy Crisis

On April 7, King Salman made a surprising 4-day visit to Egypt and committed additional funds to keep the Egyptian economy afloat. Saudi Arabia announced a fresh round of large investments in Egypt with a focus on infrastructure and energy security. Saudi Arabia has created a $16 billion investment fund that includes the development of the Egyptian Sinai region and the potential to build a connecting bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the Red Sea (Red Sea bridge is expected to cost $3-$4 billion).

This signal of Saudi Arabia’s focus on Egypt and a Saudi-friendly investment climate has encouraged many Saudi Arabian private companies to step up their investments in Egypt. By the end of February 2016, 3,744 Saudi Arabian companies had invested some $6.1 billion in Egypt, and after February 2016 another $4 billion has been committed to Egypt by Saudi Arabian companies.

With Saudi Arabia’s aid, loans, and investment packages, comes something important that addresses several of Egypt’s energy security issues: oil. Over the last five years, Egypt has seen growing demand for oil and oil products, but stagnant domestic supply. Egypt has since entered an energy crisis after 2011, forcing the country to import supplies to keep up with rising oil demand.

The Saudi Royal Visit and Egypt’s Energy Crisis

On April 7, King Salman made a surprising 4-day visit to Egypt and committed additional funds to keep the Egyptian economy afloat. Saudi Arabia announced a fresh round of large investments in Egypt with a focus on infrastructure and energy security. Saudi Arabia has created a $16 billion investment fund that includes the development of the Egyptian Sinai region and the potential to build a connecting bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the Red Sea (Red Sea bridge is expected to cost $3-$4 billion).

This signal of Saudi Arabia’s focus on Egypt and a Saudi-friendly investment climate has encouraged many Saudi Arabian private companies to step up their investments in Egypt. By the end of February 2016, 3,744 Saudi Arabian companies had invested some $6.1 billion in Egypt, and after February 2016 another $4 billion has been committed to Egypt by Saudi Arabian companies.

With Saudi Arabia’s aid, loans, and investment packages, comes something important that addresses several of Egypt’s energy security issues: oil. Over the last five years, Egypt has seen growing demand for oil and oil products, but stagnant domestic supply. Egypt has since entered an energy crisis after 2011, forcing the country to import supplies to keep up with rising oil demand.

Saudi Arabia is hoping to narrow Egypt’s oil supply deficit with a $23 billion oil deal over 5 years. The deal will provide Egypt with 400,000 tons of gasoil, 200,000 tons of benzene, and 100,000 of low-quality fuel oil (mazut). Egypt received attractive terms on the deal: the country has been given 15 years to pay the $23 billion, with a 2% annual interest rate. Saudi Arabia’s interest in securing Egypt’s economy, political stability, and energy supply is a way for Saudi Arabia to continue to grow its influence in Egypt through economic means – a more common approach in an ever growing global economy. At the heart of the Egyptian economy is its largest asset, the Suez Canal, which controls a significant share of global waterborne trade.

Influence over Transportation Hubs

Around 8% of all world sea trade passes through Egypt’s Suez Canal. By the summer of 2015, Egypt completed a Suez Canal expansion project worth $8.5 billion, made possible by Saudi Arabia’s continued economic support. The project took 12 months to complete and added 72 kilometers of new channels and bypasses that would reduce southbound seaborne transit time from 18 hours to 11 hours. The Suez Canal Company estimates that daily canal traffic will reach 97 ships by 2023, which would more than double it from 2015 levels.

Via continued support in projects such as the Suez Canal expansion, Saudi Arabia gains strategic influence over one of the largest sea passages in the world. Arab Gulf countries are increasing their use of the Canal since 2009, as the Suez Canal is playing a pivotal role in connected the Arab Gulf to the rest of the world.

Much like Iran’s influence over the strategically located Strait of Hormuz, Saudi Arabia will now have a strong influence over the second-largest oil and LNG waterborne passage route in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, and the third-largest passage in the world: the Suez Canal. Over 60% of the world’s oil production moves to market via maritime routes. Iran’s direct control of 30% of the oil and LNG makes the Strait of Hormuz the largest passage point for seaborne oil supplies. But Egypt’s Suez Canal and SUMED pipeline has seen its share of oil and LNG sea trade expand of late since losing much of its market share from 2011-2014.

As the largest oil producer in the MENA region, Saudi Arabia is looking for increased influence over the Suez Canal, which controls the production and passage of the global oil trade. As more Iranian oil production enters the export market, Egypt’s Suez Canal and SUMED pipeline are going to see increased transit volume.

Additionally, as Mediterranean gas discoveries are brought to production like Egypt’s supergiant Zohr gas discovery (30 trillion cubic feet in reserves), which is owned and operated by Italy’s Eni SPA (E), more LNG trade is expected southward toward growing Asian markets. Eni’s Zohr gas discovery is on track to produce 1 billion cubic feet per day of gas in 2017, which would increase Egypt’s total gas production by 23%.

Egypt expects Eni’s Zohr deposit to reach peak production of 2.5-3 billion cubic feet per day in 2019.

Unlike the traditional effort to gain market share by producing the most oil, larger countries like Saudi Arabia are seeking more influence in oil markets by moving into different parts of the supply chain like production, transportation, and refining. The transportation of oil and other goods are vital to the world economy; extracting oil is one thing, but bringing that oil to market is just as important. Look for Saudi Arabia to continue to assist in stabilizing Egypt economically and politically in exchange for increased influence in Egypt as the Suez Canal continues to play an integral role in global waterborne transportation.


DEBKAfiles: US Sinai pullback payback for islands handover.

The US withdrew its forces from the Sinai Peninsula last weekend in retaliation for Egypt’s transfer of sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, according to debkafile’s military and intelligence sources. They also report that the move came after Washington protested to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over its exclusion from the consultations and military coordination between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel regarding the islands.

The US message was clear. Since Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem do not report their military steps in the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to Washington, the US sees no need to inform them of its military steps in the Sinai. That message was conveyed by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph F. Dunford, to the Egyptian president during their meeting on Saturday, April 23 in Cairo.

On Tuesday, debkafile’s military sources reported that several days earlier the US military secretly withdrew about 100 of its officers and enlisted men from the multinational peacekeeping force in the northern part of the Sinai. As far as Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem are concerned, there is no doubt that it was a retaliatory measure.

US sources refused to specify the current location of the troops. The American force was withdrawn from El Gorah base, located next to the town of Sheikh Zuweid. Gen. Dunford told al-Sisi that the Obama administration is no longer willing to maintain forces in the northern Sinai following the recent shelling of the base by the ISIS affiliate in the restive area. The incident marked the terrorist organization’s first attack on US troops in the Sinai, but its second on an American force in the Middle East.

On March 19, ISIS shelled Fire Base Bell, a US marine base in Makhmur, northern Iraq, about 77 kilometers southeast of the terrorist organization’s de facto capital of Mosul. One marine was killed.
It was not by chance that shortly before he visited Cairo, Gen. Dunford made a visit lasting no more than 90 minutes to the US forward base to award purple hearts to four marines for their bravery during the ISIS shelling.

But while Washington is determined to maintain Fire Base Bell, where it has deployed HIMARS rocket launchers that can fire GPS-guided rockets known as GMLRS capable of reaching Mosul, and awards medals to soldiers serving at the base, it is not ready to treat its soldiers in the Sinai in the same manner because they have the status of multinational observers. Rather than giving out medals, it withdrew those soldiers immediately after the first ISIS attack.

At the same time, US sources launched an unprecedented personal attack on Egypt’s president over his decision to hand over the two islands to Riyadh. Articles attacking El-Sisi’s policy started to appear in the American media, with one saying “The decision to transfer the islands to Saudi Arabia may be the final nail in Sissi’s coffin.” It also described Egypt as being on the verge of a revolution against al-Sisi.

Two other Middle Eastern figures who were involved in Cairo’s decision regarding the islands were Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said recently that Cairo consulted Jerusalem regarding the transfer of the islands. However, his comment was not mentioned in US media reports, as if the development was not related to Saudi Arabia or Israel.

debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that one of the main reasons for Washington’s rage was the fact that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel decided to establish and coordinate by themselves a regional defense mechanism covering the Suez Canal, the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, and the Red Sea.

The Obama administration prefers to ignore the fact that the US withdrawal of its naval and air forces from those areas over the last three years has enabled the Iranian fleet to start operating in those waters.




John “ThomsonReuters” Kemp’s recommended reading list on energy.



moderated by Srecko Velimirovic

Serbia Votes to Continue Its EU Integration Path

Ivan Vejvoda

April 25, 2016

BELGRADE—The Serbian parliamentary snap elections held yesterday were always going to be about consolidating the incumbent Prime Minister’s position and the strategic goal of taking the country forward toward full EU membership. The result was more than convincing with 48% of the votes won and a full parliamentary majority. With this, Serbia continues full steam ahead into the EU accession process and opening the next key negotiation chapters 23 and 24 on justice and home affairs. And some would say most importantly, the Serbian electorate has once again demonstrated that it chooses the West…


Pressemitteilungen der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz

„Das ungeklärte Schicksal meiner Mitbrüder erfüllt mich mit großer Sorge“

Dritter Jahrestag der Entführung der syrischen Erzbischöfe Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim und Boulos Yazigi

Am 22. April 2013 wurden die beiden syrischen Erzbischöfe Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim und Boulos Yazigi in der Nähe von Aleppo entführt. Bis zum heutigen Tag ist ihre Situation ungewiss und es gibt keinerlei Informationen über ihren Aufenthaltsort. „Das ungeklärte Schicksal meiner Mitbrüder Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim und Boulos Yazigi erfüllt mich mit großer Sorge“, erklärt der Vorsitzende der Kommission Weltkirche der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz, Erzbischof Dr. Ludwig Schick (Bamberg). „Ich kenne beide auch persönlich und denke jeden Tag an sie. Seit nunmehr drei Jahren hat uns kein Lebenszeichen erreicht. Wir bitten die Entführer eindringlich, die syrischen Erzbischöfe freizulassen. Bei meinem Besuch in Syrien vor wenigen Wochen habe ich mit Bischöfen verschiedener Kirchen in Damaskus auch über das Schicksal der Erzbischöfe Ibrahim und Yazigi gesprochen.“

Es sei wichtig, so Erzbischof Schick, dass die ins Stocken geratenen Genfer Friedensgespräche von allen Beteiligten weitergeführt werden, damit die Gewalt in Syrien endlich ein Ende finde. „Die Menschen in Syrien, egal welcher Religion, Konfession oder Ethnie, sehnen sich nach Frieden. Die Kirchen vor Ort tun ihr Möglichstes, um hieran mitzuwirken. Sie können sich unserer Solidarität und Unterstützung gewiss sein. Dies gilt am heutigen Tag in besonderem Maße für die beiden entführten Erzbischöfe, mit denen wir im Gebet verbunden sind“, erklärt Erzbischof Schick.

Vor genau drei Jahren wurden der syrisch-orthodoxe Erzbischof Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim sowie der griechisch-orthodoxe Erzbischof Boulos Yazigi, die beide ihren Sitz in Aleppo haben, auf der Fahrt von der syrisch-türkischen Grenze in Richtung Aleppo von Unbekannten gewaltsam entführt. Der Fahrer des Wagens, in dem beide saßen, wurde vor Ort erschossen. Ein Begleiter konnte entkommen.


Informationen zur Situation der Christen in Syrien und im Irak sind im Dossier „Zur Lage in Syrien und im Irak“ verfügbar.

Robert D. Kaplan: How Islam Created Europe.

In late antiquity, the religion split the Mediterranean world in two. Now it is remaking the Continent.

Europe was essentially defined by Islam. And Islam is redefining it now.

For centuries in early and middle antiquity, Europe meant the world surrounding the Mediterranean, or Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”), as the Romans famously called it. It included North Africa. Indeed, early in the fifth century A.D., when Saint Augustine lived in what is today Algeria, North Africa was as much a center of Christianity as Italy or Greece. But the swift advance of Islam across North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries virtually extinguished Christianity there, thus severing the Mediterranean region into two civilizational halves, with the “Middle Sea” a hard border between them rather than a unifying force. Since then, as the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset observed, “all European history has been a great emigration toward the North.”

After the breakup of the Roman empire, that northward migration saw the Germanic peoples (the Goths, Vandals, Franks, and Lombards) forge the rudiments of Western civilization, with the classical legacy of Greece and Rome to be rediscovered only much later. It would take many more centuries for the modern European state system to develop. Slowly, though, feudalism, whose consensual give-and-take worked in the direction of individualism and away from absolutism, gave way to early modern empires and, over time, to nationalism and democracy. Along the way, new freedoms allowed the Enlightenment to take hold. In sum, “the West” emerged in northern Europe (albeit in a very slow and tortuous manner) mainly after Islam had divided the Mediterranean world.

Islam did much more than geographically define Europe, however. Denys Hay, a British historian, explained in a brilliant though obscure book published in 1957, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, that European unity began with the concept (exemplified by the Song of Roland) of a Christendom in “inevitable opposition” to Islam—a concept that culminated in the Crusades. The scholar Edward Said took this point further, writing in his book Orientalism in 1978 that Islam had defined Europe culturally, by showing Europe what it was against. Europe’s very identity, in other words, was built in significant measure on a sense of superiority to the Muslim Arab world on its periphery. Imperialism proved the ultimate expression of this evolution: Early modern Europe, starting with Napoleon, conquered the Middle East, then dispatched scholars and diplomats to study Islamic civilization, classifying it as something beautiful, fascinating, and—most crucial—inferior.

A classical geography is reasserting itself, as terrorism and migration reunite North Africa and the Levant with Europe.

In the postcolonial era, Europe’s sense of cultural preeminence was buttressed by the new police states of North Africa and the Levant. With these dictatorships holding their peoples prisoner inside secure borders—borders artificially drawn by European colonial agents—Europeans could lecture Arabs about human rights without worrying about the possibility of messy democratic experiments that could lead to significant migration. Precisely because the Arabs lacked human rights, the Europeans felt at once superior to and secure from them.

Islam is now helping to undo what it once helped to create. A classical geography is organically reasserting itself, as the forces of terrorism and human migration reunite the Mediterranean Basin, including North Africa and the Levant, with Europe. The Continent has absorbed other groups before, of course. In fact, Europe has been dramatically affected by demographic eruptions from the east: In the medieval centuries, vast numbers of Slavs and Magyars migrated into central and eastern Europe from deeper inside Eurasia. But those peoples adopted Christianity and later formed polities, from Poland in the north to Bulgaria in the south, that were able to fit, however bloodily, inside the evolving European state system. As for the Algerian guest workers who emigrated to France and the Turkish and Kurdish guest workers who emigrated to Germany during the Cold War, they represented a more containable forerunner to the current migration.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have no desire to be Christian are filtering into economically stagnant European states, threatening to undermine the fragile social peace. Though Europe’s elites have for decades used idealistic rhetoric to deny the forces of religion and ethnicity, those were the very forces that provided European states with their own internal cohesion.

Meanwhile, the new migration, driven by war and state collapse, is erasing the distinction between the imperial centers and their former colonies. Orientalism, through which one culture appropriated and dominated another, is slowly evaporating in a world of cosmopolitan interactions and comparative studies, as Said intuited it might. Europe has responded by artificially reconstructing national-cultural identities on the extreme right and left, to counter the threat from the civilization it once dominated.

Although the idea of an end to history—with all its ethnic and territorial disputes—turns out to have been a fantasy, this realization is no excuse for a retreat into nationalism. The cultural purity that Europe craves in the face of the Muslim-refugee influx is simply impossible in a world of increasing human interactions.

“The West,” if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism. Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster. As the great Russian intellectual Alexander Herzen observed, “History does not turn back … All reinstatements, all restorations have always been masquerades.”

The question is thus posed: What, in a civilizational sense, will replace Rome? For while empire, as Said documented, certainly had its evils, its very ability to govern vast multiethnic spaces around the Mediterranean provided a solution of sorts that no longer exists.

Europe must now find some other way to dynamically incorporate the world of Islam without diluting its devotion to the rule-of-law-based system that arose in Europe’s north, a system in which individual rights and agency are uppermost in a hierarchy of needs. If it cannot evolve in the direction of universal values, there will be only the dementia of ideologies and coarse nationalisms to fill the void. This would signal the end of “the West” in Europe.



see our letter on:

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*