· NYT:Think Hillary Clinton Will Win in a Landslide? Don’t Bet on It
· Washington Post: Inside the exclusive events helping to fund Clinton and the Democratic Party
· Washington Post: Hillary’s heel – Clinton Foundation donors got access to the State Department.
· Turkey and the Energy Transit Question
· Is Russia Safe From Extremist Attacks Like Those in Europe?
· US Army War College Quarterly: Why Russia is Reviving Its Conventional Military Power
· From my Russian news desk: Russia and Turkey: More Than a Rapprochement?
|August 23, 2016 | 17:21 GMT|
Beginning in September, Germany will accept hundreds of Iraqi, Syrian and Eritrean migrants currently living in camps in Italy, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Aug. 23, Reuters reported. An EU plan put in place in 2015 was meant to divert up to 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other member states over two years. However, as border security has increased and with few EU nations willing to accept migrants, many have been trapped. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is already under pressure from the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany but needs to forge a lasting solution to the migrant crisis.
From our Russian news desk:see attachment “Russia – Asia”.
Is Russia Safe From Extremist Attacks Like Those in Europe?
Source: Balkis Press/ABACAPRESS.COM/TASS
Op-Ed August 12, 2016 Newsweek
To a casual observer, it may seem surprising. Russian speakers form one of the largest groups among Islamic State’s (ISIS) foreign fighters. For over 10 months, Russia has been actively involved in the conflict in Syria.
The Russian North Caucasus remains a region of perennial instability. A Kiev-based Crimean Tartar group has vowed to take direct action against what it calls the Russian occupation of the peninsula. Yet, so far, Russia seems to have been spared the upsurge in extremist attacks which has affected France, Belgium and Germany. Why?
To begin with, this perception is wrong. Russia has lost more lives than France has in its recent attacks combined —224—as a result of the bombing of its passenger jet over Sinai on October 31, 2015. The perpetrators are widely believed to have been a local jihadist group which had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).
The attack happened just one month after the start of the Russian military campaign in Syria. Flights between Russia and Egypt, a favorite holiday destination for many Russians, have not been resumed since, which suggests that the threat persists.
ISIS certainly has Russia in its sights. People pledging allegiance to ISIS have carried out several deadly strikes in Dagestan. The FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency, reports an increase in the activity of potential terrorists across the country. Would-be bombers and attackers have been apprehended in a number of Russian regions. One of the stated reasons for President Putin’s decision to go into Syria was to fight the enemy in its own territory, rather than wait for him to come to Russia.
So far, Russia itself has been spared major terrorist attacks. The October plane bombing occurred after the Russian jet had taken off from an Egyptian airport. More than a dozen Russian servicemen who were killed in Syria died on the battlefield. The concerns often expressed in the West ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics did not, fortunately, materialize.
Clearly, the Russian security services have gained a lot of experience; Russia’s anti-terror legislation, already harsh, is getting harsher; and Chechnya, once the main trouble spot on Russia’s map, is tightly controlled by a strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, who calls himself “Putin’s soldier”.
That said, there are considerable differences between Russia and Western Europe, the principal target of ISIS-inspired or –affiliated attackers. In Russia, Muslims and the Orthodox Christian majority have lived side-by-side for centuries. Integration has not always been perfect, but an acceptable modus vivendi exists, both at the grassroot and elite levels.
Islam is an established religion in Russia, recognized by the state, alongside Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism. The vast majority of Muslim migrants who come to work in Russia arrive from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Like guest workers in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, they either come and go on a rotating basis or seek to stay and assimilate. In sum, Russia’s imperial legacy and its multi-ethnic, multi-religious nature are cushioning the impact of Islamist violence.
There is also the bitter experience of the 1990s and the early 2000s, the time of the war in Chechnya. Then, terrorism was a tool frequently used in Moscow and elsewhere.
Passenger planes, metro stations and whole apartment blocks were blown up, and hundreds of hospital patients, theater goers and schoolchildren were taken hostage—against the background of bloody battles in the North Caucasus. That war is long over, but making sure that peace does not unravel in the region is a major concern for the Kremlin, which explains the unique contract that de facto exists between Putin and Kadyrov.
None of the above gives the Russian leadership any ground for complacency. Domestically radicalized jihadis, ISIS followers, and the returnees from the Syria war are currently the top concerns—in addition to the extremist groups who have continued to operate in the North Caucasus after the end of the Chechnya war.
There are even bigger threats on the horizon. Russia’s participation in the Syria war, although limited, is essentially open-ended. It also looks like a first instalment in a series of possible future engagements along Russia’s southern periphery.
Afghanistan, almost a decade and a half after the start of the U.S.-led operation, remains unstable. Two of the biggest countries in Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, face potentially difficult transitions as their founding presidents, in their mid-to-late 70s, prepare to leave the scene.
The smaller countries of the region, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, are facing mounting challenges to their stability. Given that Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, the world’s longest, is not controlled as closely as the country’s other frontiers, and that borders in Central Asia are not sufficiently secure, overflow of jihadis across them is a possibility they need to reckon with.
Even as Russia is again engaged in a confrontation with the West, it is confronted by very real threats coming from the south.
Policy= res publica
Freudenberg-Pilster* NYT:Think Hillary Clinton Will Win in a Landslide? Don’t Bet on It.
vote. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
Donald J. Trump, after weeks of self-inflicted damage, has seen support for his candidacy in national polls dip into the 30s — Barry Goldwater and Walter F. Mondale territory — while Hillary Clinton has extended her lead to double digits in several crucial swing states.
Time to declare a landslide, right? Not so fast.
The vote may be more favorable to Mr. Trump than the worst-case-scenario prognosticators suggest for a very simple reason: Landslides do not really happen in presidential elections anymore.
It has been 32 years since a president won the popular vote by a double-digit percentage. That was when Mr. Mondale suffered an 18-point defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1984. It was also the last time there was a landslide among states, with Mr. Mondale winning only Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
There are a variety of factors that are likely to prevent a candidate today from rallying the huge, 60-plus-point majorities that swept Franklin D. Roosevelt back into office in 1936, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and Richard M. Nixon in 1972.
The country is too fragmented and its political temperature too overheated for any single person to emerge as a consensus choice for anything nearing two-thirds of the electorate. And that climate has led the political parties to become far more ideologically uniform than they used to be.
“The biggest difference between today and say, 1936 or 1964, is the composition of the two parties,” said Jonathan Darman, author of the book “Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America.” Party identification used to be more fluid, making it less difficult for partisan voters to conceive of supporting someone of the opposite affiliation.
“The Republican and Democratic parties were much more heterogeneous than the parties we have today,” Mr. Darman added. “Party identification had a lot more to do with regional ties and family traditions than ideology.”
Data show just how less likely crossover voting is today. Ninety percent of Republicans and two-thirds of independents see Mrs. Clinton unfavorably, according to the most recent McClatchy/Marist poll. And many Trump defectors are choosing to vote for third-party candidates, which has also contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s inability to break the 50 percent threshold in most national polls. (All together, the third-party candidates are approaching 15 percent of the vote, indicating an unabated dissatisfaction with the nominees for the two major parties.)
Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in Burbank, Calif. Even as her rival has slid, she remains below the 50 percent threshold in many polls.
According to Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, about 20 percent of voters now hold political beliefs that place them at the ideological poles of their respective parties — a number that doubled from 2004 to 2014. And these people tend to reinforce one another’s views. “Those on the ends of the political spectrum are more likely to surround themselves with people that think like they do,” Ms. Mitchell said.
This high level of polarization could contribute to a curious electoral phenomenon, which could cost Mrs. Clinton support: If people begin to believe that she is going to run away with the election, they may lodge a protest vote against her simply to deny her a commanding victory.
“If it becomes a ‘free vote,’ ” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster, “I think that could be one of her problems. If it looks all too easy and all too comfortable, there may be voters who will say, ‘I don’t want her to win by a landslide.’ ”
If Mrs. Clinton performs well enough, she could achieve something her husband, Bill Clinton, never did: winning a majority of the popular vote. But given the polling today, the election is showing certain resemblances to the 1992 race that sent Mr. Clinton to the White House the first time. That year, many voters dissatisfied with President George Bush flocked to the independent Ross Perot, and neither Mr. Bush nor Bill Clinton came close to a majority.
Mr. Clinton took a whopping 370 electoral votes, despite winning just 43 percent of the vote. With Mr. Perot on the ballot again in 1996, Mr. Clinton won only 49 percent.
President Obama’s victory in his first term was considered about as large a landslide as possible given how split the country is. But when compared with the Johnson, Roosevelt and Reagan landslides, it was paltry: just 53 percent. Recent elections were more closely divided. George W. Bush received 48 percent in 2000 — after he failed to win the popular vote but won the Electoral College — and 51 percent in 2004.
The margin of victory, however, is about more than just bragging rights. If voter unease does not subside, a smaller victory could limit Mrs. Clinton’s ability to claim the kind of popular mandate that she and Democrats on Capitol Hill would like.
“A mandate is some kind of issue platform that you have advocated that is the basis of your victory,” said Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “Not fear of the person who got beaten, which I think is the prime motivator of the Clinton people: the fear of Trump. The same thing can be said for Trump voters: fear of Clinton.”
Absent a popular vote landslide, the only overwhelming chances for victory lie in the Electoral College. Mr. Obama won in 2008 with 365 electoral votes to Senator John McCain’s 173, for example.
Mrs. Clinton could approach or even exceed that if Mr. Trump’s poll numbers remain depressed. But even so, for Mr. Trump not to carry close to 20 states would be a defeat on a huge scale. Mr. McCain won 22 states in 2008. And despite the scale of that defeat, it was still far less lopsided than Mr. Mondale’s one state and the District of Columbia.
Washington Post: Inside the exclusive events helping to fund Clinton and the Democratic Party
The price of entry to see Hillary Clinton on Sunday evening was $50,000 per person, a sum that got you an al fresco meal of tomato and mozzarella salad, lobster, strawberry shortcake and an intimate conversation with the possible next president of the United States.
“It was the easiest event I’ve ever done,” said Elaine Schuster, a longtime Clinton friend who hosted the soiree at her waterfront home on Cape Cod, Mass. “Everyone wanted to come.”
Not everyone could, of course: Just 28 people joined Clinton for cocktails and dinner in Schuster’s back yard.
The Democratic nominee has spent much of August in such exclusive environs, helping her campaign and the party scoop up at least $32 million in three weeks as part of a nonstop press of high-dollar fundraisers.
Clinton has touted her growing support from small contributors, whose donations of $200 or less made up nearly 40 percent of her campaign’s $62 million haul in July.
But the former secretary of state devoted much of this month to seeking big money to finance the Democratic Party, a race for cash that has taken her from Greenwich, Conn., to Nantucket, Mass., to Beverly Hills, Calif.
The fundraising drive has served as a reminder of her deep and decades-long connections to some of the country’s wealthiest figures, a jarring contrast with her efforts to cast herself as an ally of those left out of prosperity.
“There is too much inequality, too little upward mobility. It is just too hard to get ahead today,” Clinton said during a major economic speech this month in the blue-collar community of Warren, Mich. If elected, she pledged, “I will have your back every single day that I serve.”
That appeal to working-class voters was bookended by two expensive fundraisers. The night before, Clinton had held a $25,000-a-head event in nearby Birmingham, Mich., at the home of a musician whose father was the owner of basketball’s Detroit Pistons. Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin provided entertainment for the roughly 70 guests, performing “Natural Woman.”
And on the evening of her speech, donors paid $50,000 apiece to socialize with the candidate at the Chicago Club, one of the city’s most exclusive social gathering places. Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), did his part by appearing at a fundraiser the same day at a Roman-style trattoria in a boutique Manhattan hotel, where admission started at $50,000 as well.
The Democratic ticket’s relentless fundraising this month — which included 50 private events through Monday, split roughly in half between the running mates — is helping to drive what is expected to be a record monthly haul for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
But the intense pursuit of big money spotlights what has long been one of Clinton’s biggest vulnerabilities: her immersion in a wealthy elite circle that has supported her family’s political and philanthropic causes over the past four decades. Those relationships were underscored by newly released emails from her time as secretary of state, which showed how the requests of her longtime friends and donors captured the attention of top Clinton aides.
Republican nominee Donald Trump also has devoted much of August to the fundraising circuit, with about two dozen events scheduled in some of the same exclusive enclaves as Clinton’s. But he does not have the same kind of long-standing connections to wealthy donors as the former first lady — relationships that have paid dividends as she has sought financing for her second White House run.
The billionaire real estate developer has attacked Clinton as beholden to her benefactors, picking up a critique that Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) made during the Democratic primaries.
“Hillary Clinton’s donors own her,” Trump said at a rally in Akron, Ohio, on Monday night. “They own her lock, stock and barrel. They own her, and she will do whatever they tell her to do.”
It’s an argument that resonates with many Sanders fans, who remain uncomfortable with Clinton’s pursuit of big money.
“Fifty thousand dollars is more than a lot of people make in a year,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, an environmental group that was an early Sanders supporter.
“When you’re taking such big-dollar contributions, ordinary Americans have a right to question what people are getting in return,” he added.
Some Sanders supporters are even more pointed in their criticism, noting that the senator’s low-dollar fundraising juggernaut surpassed Clinton for several months.
“It seems to be 180 degrees opposite of what Bernie talked about,” said Burt Cohen, a former New Hampshire state senator and host of a podcast called “Keeping Democracy Alive.” “It’s more of that strategy of leaving the Bernie people in the dust.”
Clinton officials said that those writing big checks are supplying just a fraction of the campaign’s contributions. Of the $62 million Clinton raised for her campaign in July, $44 million was contributed online, they said. Donations of $200 or less totaled more than $24 million, about 38 percent.
Trump also brought in about $24 million in small donations in July, about two-thirds of the $36 million he collected in his campaign committee.
Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin said in a statement that “grassroots support continues to be the lifeblood of this campaign. Hillary Clinton raised nearly 70 percent of her money online in July, with about half of the donations coming from first time donors and the average donation to the campaign for the month was just $44.”
Still, Clinton spent most of August raising huge sums for the national party, which can accept vastly larger contributions than her campaign, as a result of rules being loosened in 2014.
She pulled in at least $1.5 million from 15 guests who attended a dinner in Omaha hosted by Susan Buffett, the daughter of Warren Buffett, a business magnate and investor, according to details released by the campaign.
A few days later, Clinton scooped up at least $750,000 at the home in Bow Mar, Colo., of Charlie Ergen, co-founder of Dish network and reportedly the richest man in the state.
Last weekend, Clinton collected at least $3.8 million in a swing through the toniest oceanfront communities in Massachusetts, headlining five events held by the likes of investor Lynn Forester de Rothschild, former ambassador to Portugal Elizabeth Bagley and former Universal Studios chief executive Frank Biondi.
Then it was off to Southern California, where the candidate spent Monday and Tuesday feted by boldface names such as former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson at six events Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, she is scheduled to headline three fundraisers in California’s Bay Area, culminating with a dinner in Los Altos hosted by Apple chief executive Tim Cook.
Those who have observed Clinton in these settings say that she takes pains to point out the vast economic chasm that separates the attendees from the majority of Americans.
“She says the same thing at every one of these events as I see on TV,” said Wade Randlett, a longtime Democratic bundler who is raising money for Clinton’s campaign.
“The only difference is that she starts by saying that the economy is working for all of us in the room, but it’s not working for too many people and her job is to make it work for everybody.”
Clinton was the first presidential contender this cycle to take advantage of recent changes in campaign finance rules that allow candidates to seek massive contributions in conjunction with the national party.
By giving to two joint fundraising committees that Clinton’s campaign set up with the DNC, a single donor can contribute as much as $619,200 this year to support her bid. (Trump now has a similar arrangement with the Republican National Committee that allows donors to give up to $449,400.)
A Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission filings found that 65 Clinton allies had given at least $300,000 apiece to her joint fundraising committees by the end of June, together accounting for more than $29 million in contributions.
Among them are Univision chairman Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl Saban who together donated $1.4 million. The Sabans also have contributed $10 million to Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton super PAC.
A Post investigation last year found that the couple ranked as the top political benefactors of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns since 1992 and also had donated at least $10 million to the Clintons’ family foundation.
On Monday night, the Sabans opened their Beverly Hills home to their longtime friend, hosting 100 supporters who paid $50,000 each to dine with the candidate.
The next day, Clinton took a brief break from her fundraising schedule to participate in a conference call with small-business owners around the country.
During her remarks, she recalled her upbringing in a family that ran a small drapery business in suburban Chicago, saying, “I want to make sure every family has the chance to tell a similar story. And that’s why my top priority as president will be building an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.”
Soon after, she was off — headed to mingle with stars such as Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Tobey Maguire at the Hollywood Hills home of pop star Justin Timberlake and his wife, actress Jessica Biel, for yet another fundraiser. This one alone would generate more than $3 million for Clinton and the party.
****************************************************************************************************************** Politics: From Vision to Action
Barandat* The ISIS war has a new commander — and ISIS may be the least of his worries.
By: Andrew Tilghman, August 21, 2016
It’s going to be a long year for Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who on Sunday became the seventh American general since 2003 to assume command of war operations in Iraq. And his mission might be the toughest one yet.
As the head of Operation Inherent Resolve, Townsend’s objective is to eliminate the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate while simultaneously diffusing the region’s Sunni-Shia conflicts that have metastasized into a proxy war, drawing in nearly every major country across Europe and the Middle East. He has to win the Battle of Mosul and stabilize northern Iraq. He has to pursue ISIS into Syria, where the U.S. has few allies on the ground, and negotiate a highly complex battlefield that also includes heavily armed and highly unpredictable Russian military forces. And back in Washington, Townsend will face historic uncertainty, the product of an unusual political landscape that — for better or worse — will produce in a new commander in chief come January.
Military analysts say Townsend, by all accounts one of the Army’s most gifted strategists, will oversee a shift from conventional warfare to a mission that is far more ambiguous and political. “Things are about to get a lot more complicated,” said Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser for Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk analysis firm. “The complexity of operations is going to speed up. And for General Townsend, trying to understand that quickly is going to be paramount.”
Townsend replaces Lt. Gen. Sean McFarland, a fellow Army officer whose 11 months in command brought about a significant momentum shift. He helped the Iraqi army seize Ramadi and Fallujah, two strategically important cities in Anbar province, and made important commitments to the Kurdish forces now encroaching on Mosul from the north. That came despite a spike in ISIS terror attacks in Baghdad, turmoil inside Iraq’s Shiite-led government, and the steady expansion of Russian military operations across the region. Most recently, Russian military aircraft began flying combat missions from Iranian air bases, cutting across the Iraqi airspace already crowded with American military aircraft.
Townsend will face those challenges and more. He’ll have to contend not only with Russia’s expanding presence, but with Iran’s heavy-handed influence and continued fallout with Turkey, whose leadership has become outwardly distrustful of the U.S. after this summer’s failed coup attempt. If relations with Turkey don’t improve, U.S. military access to Incirlik Air Base could be in jeopardy, potentially compromising the anti-ISIS air campaign.
In Iraq, a fundamental predicament remains: Can Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds live together in a single nation state? And in Syria, where the military plan remains vague, there is no end in sight to the chaotic civil war that created the safe havens where ISIS took root.
“It’s hard to imagine walking into a more difficult scenario than General MacFarland did last year,” said Peter Haynes, a retired Navy captain who is now a military strategist at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “However, I think General Townsend is walking into an even greater challenge.”
Townsend declined to be interviewed, instead offering Military Times a brief written statement about his initial plans as war commander.
“We will continue the attack, maintaining the momentum we have, to close with Mosul and Raqqa, ISIL’s twin capital cities, and destroy or drive Da’esh out," the general said, using alternative monikers for the Islamic State group. "Our international coalition has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to this mission, which will liberate the Iraqi and Syrian people from ISIL’s twisted ideology and make our own nations safer.”
FRAGILE, NEFARIOUS ALLIANCES
Townsend will command fewer than 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He can strike ISIS from the air, and he is authorized to deploy H-64 Apache attack helicopters to support close-quarters urban warfare. Yet most of his power lies in his ability to stitch together an improbable coalition of allies.
“The U.S. is almost like the glue that will hold this together. The multiple actors is going to be the biggest challenge General Townsend faces,” said Omar Lahriani, a military analyst for Stratfor, a Texas-based private intelligence firm.
Nearly all of those allies are flawed in some way. By and large, they don’t trust one another. Some are poorly led, ill equipped and unreliable. Some are foreign militaries with their own national agendas that may or may not overlap with U.S. objectives.
Operation Inherent Resolve is providing air strikes and combat advisers to at least four distinct groups: the Iraqi army, the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the Syrian Kurds, known as the YPG, and also to the so-called “Syrian Arab coalition.” At the same time, there is another layer of more ambiguous players: the enemies of America’s enemies who may (or may not) be friendly to the U.S. They oppose ISIS for one reason or another but don’t coordinate directly with U.S. forces. These groups include Iraq’s Shiite militias, Iranian operatives, the Russian military, the Turkish military and a patchwork of Syrian rebel militias whose aims and loyalties are unclear.
“Coalition warfare is always difficult. Collation warfare where some of the players aren’t even part of the coalition is even more difficult,” said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. What remains to be seen is whether those groups will do what Townsend and his U.S. strategists want them to do. “You’re going to have to be looking at the Kurds; you’re going to have to be looking at the Iraqi forces; you’re going to have to be looking at the Iranians. And you’re going to have to be looking at the popular militias — and it is possible you might have to be looking at the Turks,” Cordesman added.
The rules of engagement could become quite complex very quickly, Haynes said. “What is the ROE if Shiite militias or Iranian forces start to fire on U.S. forces?” he said. Such an array of dubious allies makes some military professionals question the entire mission.
"The question," said Doug MacGregor, a retired Army colonel who’s now a consultant living in Virginia, "is ‚who are our friends and allies that we are ultimately helping?‘ I don’t think that’s very clear because I don’t think we have friends and allies in the region.”
A LOT HINGES ON MOSUL
Mosul will be familiar terrain for Townsend, who was a brigade commander there in 2006. Nevertheless, the battle for Iraq’s second-largest city, likely to begin later this year, will be a careful balancing act.
If he relies too heavily on air power and artillery, Townsend risks civilian casualties and damaging the city, further alienating Mosul residents and making reconciliation more difficult. But he can’t let the fight drag on for too long. “If Mosul ends up being a long, slogging affair, it will make the political situation in Baghdad even worse and ISIS would be able to gain a huge propaganda victory,” Haynes said.
Mosul is also a place where traditional combat operations will converge with politics. For the first time the U.S. commander is relying on all Iraqi factions to work together.
The battle plan calls for the Iraqi army to invade from the south and coordinate with the Kurdish Peshmerga who will push into Mosul from the north and east. At the same time, Townsend will have to apply political pressure to prevent the more autonomous Shiite militias — some backed by Iran — from causing problems.
“Taking Mosul is actually just the first time you have to make sure the glue works and the Baghdad government, the Peshmerga and the Shiite militias don’t turn on each other,” Lahriani said. A military victory in Mosul that “clears” the city center might ultimately turn out to be the easy part for the new commander.
To that end, MacFarland offered a blunt warning shortly before leaving Baghdad. “We can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organization capable of horrific attacks,” he told reporters on Aug. 11. It’s a problem that sounds a lot like the one that faced a force of 150,000 U.S. troops a decade ago.
“General Townsend’s biggest challenge is going to be figuring out how to translate battlefield victories into political gains,” Hayes said. “The sooner that you can get your political and economic reforms underway, it kind of starts to drain the swamp that ISIS swims in. If you reduce those grievances, it really reduces ISIS’s ability to gain a foothold at the local level. … Will it require more U.S. troops to do a counter-insurgency mission, which is very labor intensive?”
SYRIA: ‚ANYBODY’S GUESS‘
Achieving success will be far more difficult in Syria, where the multi-sided civil war creates a self-reinforcing crisis that ISIS exploits. Targeted operations against ISIS inadvertently strengthen the regime of President Bashar al Assad, thus prolonging the civil war between Assad and a disorganized patchwork of rebel forces. Weakening ISIS inadvertently eases pressure on Assad and helps sustain the chaotic stalemate where ISIS took root.
U.S. strategy is focused on ousting ISIS from its stronghold in Raqqa. American warplanes conduct daily airstrikes, but there are only about 300 U.S. troops on the group, special operators backing a cadre of anti-ISIS militias.
Compared to Iraq, the Syrian battlefield has many more actors, including dozens of rebel factions, Russians and Iranians, both of whom support Assad’s ultimate survival. Syria is a geopolitical powder keg, and that limits the U.S. military’s ability to leverage its own power.
“If you put more U.S. forces on the ground in Syria, not only can they come into contact with ISIS, but they could come into contact with Russian forces. Or with Iranian forces. Imagine if some of their bombs actually hit U.S. forces? That is a much bigger complication,” Lahriani said. That fear was highlighted just a few days before Townsend took command. On Aug. 18, Syrian jets launched air strikes near a small contingent of U.S. special operations troops alongside Syrian real allies on the ground.
Russian pilots fly a long range bomber Tu-22M3 during an air strike over Syria on Aug. 18, 2016. Russia’s Defence Ministry said the Russian warplanes took off from a base in Iran and in Russia to target Islamic State fighters in Syria. Photo Credit: AP via Russian Defense Ministry
U.S. support in Syria has focused on the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG. They’ve proven to be the most reliable U.S. ally and could help achieve a major tactical victory by cutting off ISIS supply lines into Turkey and further isolating the extremist group. “The big question is going to be whether or not the Syrian Kurds are going to be able to consolidate control over the length of the Syrian-Turkish border,” said Michael Rubin, a military analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
But flowing military support to the YPG comes with a big risk: destabilizing Turkey. The Turkish government vigorously opposes empowering Syrian Kurds. Turkey has its own restive Kurdish minority, and many Turks believe the YPG is linked to a Turkish terrorist group that mounts catastrophic attacks on the Turkish government and civilians.
U.S. relations with Turkey, a NATO ally, have faltered during the past year, and some U.S. military officials fear that Turkey would revoke military’s access to Incirlik Air Base, a key hub for the American coalition’s anti-ISIS operations. While Turkey nominally backs the U.S. effort to defeat ISIS, many experts believe suppressing the Kurds is Turkey’s top priority and many Turks quietly sympathize with the Islamic extremists.
“Turkey has been playing a double game,” Karasik said.
With Turkey, Russia and Iran all pursing different agendas in Syria’s civil war, many experts believe there is no military solution — that the civil war will end only with a diplomatic agreement between the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.
“It’s going to have to be solved politically,” said Larry Korb, a military expert with the Center for American Progress. “Syria has got to be solved by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry, to come to some sort of accommodation with the Russians. Because the Russians kept Assad from failing, but they can’t make him win. … We don’t want to get involved with the Syrian civil war, but we want to deny ISIS a safe haven. We want to work with the Kurds to fight ISIS, but we don’t want to antagonize the Turks too much. So basically that is much more complex.”
Just days before Townsend arrived in Baghdad, the calculus grew more multifarious as the Russians began using Iranian military bases to launch air strikes on Syria. “That was a direct message to the Arabs, that the Russians are here to stay,” Karasik said. “The general is going to have to deal the Russians more and more."
Most experts say there is simply no end in sight. “What happens in Syria is, quite frankly, anybody’s guess,” Cordesman said.
WILDCARD: IF TRUMP IS PRESIDENT
One of the greatest uncertainties during Townsend’s command will be his new commander in chief, and what direction the next president will want to take the ISIS fight.
If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Townsend’s mission is likely to remain largely unchanged. “She’ll continue the Obama policies, maybe a little more effort in there. … You might have a safe zone, for example, in Syria for humanitarian reasons,” Korb said.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has been vague about his objectives for war. If he’s elected, Townsend could face an awkward transition if the president-elect signals a big policy shift before being sworn into office.
“A president Trump would be an interesting issue,” Cordesman said. “One problem is — what does a president-elect say? And this is a president who would probably say something and there is no way to know. Is it going to reinforce General Townsend’s mission? Is it going to present a problem? ‘Obviously one of the difficulties for any serving officer is trying to serve two masters, and here you’d have a master in office and a master that is coming in. That is not something, again, that you can predict. But it is certainly going to be a challenge if it happens.”
Few experts believe either candidate would order a new, aggressive push into Syria. But Townsend may receive very little oversight as power changes hands in Washington. There might be some "drift" at a very critical time, Karasik said. "And ‘between administrations’ can last a good six months at least,” he added.
The list of worst-case scenarios is long: open conflict with Russia or Iran; a collapse of the Iraqi government; or even a massive humanitarian crisis caused by a breach of the dilapidated Mosul dam, which would cause flooding in the streets of Baghdad.
“If certain contingencies happen simultaneously," Karasik said, "then he’s going to be on his own. And don’t forget everybody knows this — and they will take advantage of it.”
Andrew Tilghman is Military Times‘ Pentagon bureau chief.
Why Russia is Reviving Its Conventional Military Power
AbstrAct: The revival of Russian military power poses certain challenges to NATO and to the West. However, the exact nature of these challenges is not straightforward. This article discusses why Russia is reviving its conventional military power and argues these developments are not limited to the intention of preparing for offensive action. NATO’s and the West’s policy responses to recent changes in Russian defense policy need to be based on a realistic and nuanced understanding of Russian motivations because ill-considered responses could have serious unintended consequences.
After almost 20 years of allowing Russia’s conventional armed forces to fall into disrepair, an extensive program of modernization announced in 2008 has yielded impressive results and started a process of Russian military revival.1
Following the military intervention in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and Russia’s first expeditionary operation outside of the former Soviet region in Syria, recent developments in Russian defense policy have led to increasing concerns about a militarily resurgent Russia and the potential implications of this for its neighbors, NATO, and the West.
In the words of the new NATO SACEUR, US General Curtis Scaparotti, who was sworn in in May 2016, “a resurgent Russia [is] striving to project itself as a world power…To address these challenges, we must continue to maintain and enhance our levels of readiness and our agility in the spirit of being able to fight tonight if deterrence fails.”2
According to Gustav Gressel, writing for the European Council of Foreign Relations, “Europe’s military advantage over Russia” is now “undermined.”
To counter “Russia’s new military boldness and adventurism” and its military vision that is “centered on the Eurasian landmass,” Europe is now in need of finding an urgent response to “Russian expansionism.”
Although “a major military escalation on the European continent is not imminent,” according to Gressel, “Russia is clearly preparing itself for offensive operations.”3
Russia’s conventional military capabilities are more impressive today than during the first two decades of the post-Soviet period, and these capabilities are likely to continue growing. It is also beyond doubt Russian foreign policy rhetoric and conduct today, particularly towards NATO and the West, is more forceful and aggressive than it was at any time during the post-Cold war era.
However, the convergence of these factors does not necessarily mean Russia is rebuilding its conventional military exclusively to prepare for more offensive action or to pursue expansionist policies in direct confrontation with NATO.
This article argues this conjecture overlooks the fact that most states continue to see the maintenance of a powerful conventional military as essential. Conventional military power has remained highly relevant throughout the post-Cold war era not only as an instrument of policy, but also as an essential attribute of a strong state and global actor.
From this point of view, Russia’s restoration of conventional military power was only a matter of time and money and is in many ways less surprising than the long neglect of these capabilities.
Moreover, the assumption that preparation for offensive action and the pursuit of expansionist policies is the only motivation behind the revival of Russia’s conventional military power disregards the fact that the utility of military force is not limited to the fighting of wars and defeating of opponents.
Instead, conventional military power is routinely wielded to deter, compel, swagger, dissuade, or reassure. The idea that improvements in Russia’s conventional military capabilities have significantly increased the likelihood of offensive action, including against the West, also underestimates the limitations of Russia’s conventional military capabilities and overstates its likely willingness to take such a step in the first place.
Theoretically, the scenario of a Russian offensive against a NATO member state is not impossible now or in the future, but it would be highly irrational given Russia’s persistent disparity in conventional military power and the risk of escalation into nuclear conflict. The revival of Russian conventional military power will increasingly affect the defensive balance in Europe and pose certain challenges. However, the implications of this development and how NATO and the West should respond are not straightforward.
A more nuanced consideration of Russia’s possible motivations for rebuilding its conventional military power is essential. Basing policy responses on a skewed understanding of Russian intentions could have serious unintended consequences.
The Enduring Relevance of Conventional Military Power. A strong military is central to a state’s ability to project power on an international level. As Hans Morgenthau noted, as long as anarchy obtains in the international system, “armed strength as a threat or a potentiality is the most important material factor making for the political power of nations.”4
Arguably, this is as true today as it was at the time this line was written. During the Cold War, strong conventional military power, in addition to nuclear deterrence, singled out the United States and the Soviet Union as the world’s two superpowers. Although some advocates of nuclear weapons believed nuclear deterrence would make conventional military power obsolete in the long run, such a view never took hold in the superpowers’ defense decision-making establishments.
In fact, both countries continued spending the bulk of their military budgets on conventional forces because it was understood the political military utility of nuclear deterrence was limited for dealing with threats to their interests below the threshold of a direct nuclear attack on their own territories.5
When the Cold War ended, many believed the centrality of military power in international relations would diminish. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the threat of a global conflict had waned and, with the spread of democracy and economic interdependence, state competition in the future would revolve around economic, not military matters.6
However, such beliefs were short-lived. Military power continued to be seen as an essential instrument of statecraft, especially for great powers, even though economic competition had become more important and there was no longer an immediate threat of a global war.7
In the absence of an immediate adversary against whom to assess its conventional military capabilities, the United States defined the “two-war” standard as a measure to size its conventional forces in 1991. As there was no clear and present danger emanating from a specific state actor, conventional forces strong enough to deal with the eventuality of two simultaneous major regional contingencies were considered essential to ensure the country’s “ongoing demands for forward presence, crisis response, regional deterrence, humanitarian assistance, building partnership capacity, homeland defense, and support to civil authorities.”8
Contemporary China is another important example demonstrating the enduring relevance of conventional military power in the eyes of states aspiring to great power status. Although China has established itself as one of the world’s economic great powers, growing economic strength has been accompanied by a massive drive to establish a competitive conventional military arsenal. As the world’s second largest military spender behind the United States, and with its budget continuing to grow, China’s development has evoked discussions similar to the Russian case about the country’s intentions and its potential transformation into a “revisionist state.”9
As Hew Strachan has noted, rather than causing a decline of the role of conventional military power in international politics, the end of the Cold War made permissible a situation where states, especially in the West, have displayed a growing readiness to use military force as an instrument of policy.10
The utility of conventional military power endures. Russia and Conventional Military Power Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia always maintained a strong nuclear deterrent, and in this area remained equal to the United States. However, its conventional forces were left to decay for almost two decades.
This drawn-out neglect of its armed forces should not be confused with a statement of pacifism in the sense that the projection of military power was no longer seen as important. Russia’s quest for great power status dates back centuries, and its self-perception as such did not cease with the end of the Cold War in 1991.11
Military power was central to the making of the tsarist empire. It was also a strong military, above all else, which elevated the Soviet Union to superpower status during the Cold War years. Relinquishing armed strength and accepting the resulting loss of great power status was never a serious option for Russia. The first military doctrine of the Russian Federation issued in 1993 envisaged significant cuts to Soviet legacy force levels and prioritized the development of conventional forces able to deal with local conflicts, which were seen as the most immediate concern at the time.
The idea that a global conventional deterrent was no longer needed was never a consensus view in Russia. Traditional military thinkers from the outset argued in favor of more open-ended defense requirements that would keep the country prepared for a larger variety of eventualities.12
In fact, the 1993 doctrine already reflected ambitions to maintain a competitive conventional deterrent. It envisioned investments in research and development for the creation of high-tech equipment, including electronic warfare capabilities, stealth technology, and advanced naval weaponry. This was a direct response to the lessons Russian strategists had learned from the accomplishments of the “revolution in military affairs” demonstrated by superior US conventional forces in the 1991 Gulf War.13
Such ambitions were confirmed in the 2000 military doctrine, which explicitly reoriented priorities away from the focus on small wars-type scenarios and towards the need for the creation of conventional forces with global reach. This doctrine was published in the wake of NATO’s high-tech operation “Allied Force” over Serbia which, in the words of Alexei Arbatov, “marked a watershed in Russia’s assessment of its own military requirements and defense priorities.”14
Although the central components of the successful 2008 modernization program, such as the need to professionalize, create rapid reaction forces, and procure advanced technology, were considered in all reform attempts from the early 1990s, no program up until 2008 led to fundamental transformation.
Unlike the 2008 reforms, which were backed up by realistic financial means and unprecedented political will, Yeltsin-era plans for military transformation faltered owing to the country’s dire economic situation and the lack of political clout required for pushing through changes unpopular with some elements in the military leadership.15
The inability to turn ambitions for its conventional military into reality did not mean the Russian leadership no longer saw strong conventional military power as desirable or important. Clearly, there was an understanding that a strong nuclear deterrent alone was insufficient to uphold Russia’s great power status in the long term, especially when other countries’ conventional armed forces continued to modernize at a rapid pace. Conventional military power persists as an important attribute of state power. It is deemed to have utility as an instrument of policy, even more so now than it was during the Cold War. As long as this is the case, it would be unrealistic to expect Russia not to want to remain a player in the game.
The Utility of Conventional Military Power. The idea that the modernization of Russia’s conventional military capabilities can only be motivated by its intention to engage in ever more aggressive, expansionist, and offensive military action is based on a simplistic understanding of the utility of conventional military power.
As Robert Art argued, “military power should not be equated simply with its physical use…To focus only on the physical use of military power is to miss most of what most states do most of the time with the military power at their disposal.”16
In other words, states maintain conventional military forces not only to fight offensive wars, but also to wield these forces in a variety of physical and non-physical ways to deter, coerce, compel, swagger, reassure, or dissuade other actors, depending on the situation and on the objectives to be achieved.17
The prerequisite for a state’s ability to use its military power in any physical or non-physical way is the availability of a robust military organization in the first place.
Following the serious neglect of the Russian armed forces throughout the 1990s, this availability was increasingly in doubt. The degree of decay of the Russian military and the possible domestic and international repercussions if this situation had been allowed to continue need to be taken into account when Russia’s reasons for rebuilding its conventional military power are considered.
As Eugene Rumer and Celeste Wallander wrote in 2003, “Russia entered the millennium with its capacity to project military power beyond its borders vastly reduced and its ability to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty severely tested by the war in Chechnya.”18
Clearly, the fact that the once powerful Russian military struggled to defeat “a band of irregulars fighting with little more than the weapons on their backs,” as Jeffrey Tayler had put it, created a feeling of insecurity in Russia that cast serious doubts on its ability to defend against and deter potential external threats.19
Although a stronger Russian conventional military poses certain challenges to NATO and the West, it is clear further decay would have been a poor alternative. When the Russian National Security Concept issued in 2000 permitted nuclear first use to “repulse armed aggression, if all other means of resolving the crisis have been exhausted,” it was widely assumed the nuclear threshold was lowered because there was no longer any faith in Russia that conventional options would be successful in the case of an armed attack.20
As Charles Glaser cautioned, there is the danger that insecurity can pressure an adversary to adopt competitive and threatening policies.21 This is particularly dangerous if the only tools available for pursuing such policies are nuclear weapons. It is also clear the modernization of Russia’s conventional military was a necessity not only to ensure defense requirements.
Although a military coup was never on the cards, concerns over growing military opposition and mutiny became increasingly common by the end of the 1990s.22
The potentially catastrophic consequences of this for Russia, as well as for international security, are not hard to imagine. Russian views on the utility of conventional military power are not limited to territorial defense and the peaceful deterrence of potential external threats. After all, Russia has used armed force to pursue a variety of policy objectives throughout the post-Cold War years, including various “peace enforcement” operations across the former Soviet region at the beginning of the 1990s, the Chechen wars, the war with Georgia in 2008, in Ukraine starting in 2014, and most recently in Syria.
A reason why there is concern in the West about improvements in Russia’s conventional military capabilities is the conviction that better capabilities will inevitably lead to more offensive action in the future. As British expert on the Russian military Keir Giles has put it, “the more Russia develops its conventional capability, the more confident and aggressive it will become.”23 The influence of capabilities on the decision to use force is not as straightforward, however. As Benjamin Fordham argued, the “claim that capabilities influence not just opportunity, but also willingness…is implicit or explicit in a substantial amount of work in international relations, but has rarely been tested.”24
Better military capabilities are likely to influence Russian foreign policy by providing more opportunity for the use of force. After all, as Fordham also noted, “decision makers cannot use force unless they have the means to do so.”25
Russia’s air campaign in Syria, for example, was certainly enabled by the opportunities created from improvements in its conventional capabilities.
In Syria, Russia demonstrated it now had the capability to deploy and sustain a limited out-of-area operation for the first time in post-Soviet history.
This came as a surprise to many observers, who did not believe Russia had the sea and airlift capabilities required for such an undertaking.26
This operation would not have been possible ten years ago, even if there had been the willingness in theory to launch a similar offensive. The most likely area for future Russian military action continues to be the former Soviet region in cases deemed by Russia to pose significant threats to its interests, for example, the intrusion of IS terrorism into Central Asian states.
It is unlikely better capabilities will result in the indiscriminate future use of military force by Russia or a proliferation of expansionist policies as improvements in Russia’s conventional military capabilities have not substantially changed the relative military power balance in this region. Even at its lowest point, Russian conventional military power far outrivalled any of the other former Soviet states, at any point of the post-Cold War period, due to the sheer disparity in size and the fact that their militaries were besieged by similar levels of neglect.
Although the operational performance of Russian forces in conflicts fought up until the Georgia war in 2008 was far from stellar, especially when the Chechen wars stretched their capabilities in every possible way, the country never risked a situation that could lead to comprehensive defeat.
In spite of its consistent military superiority over the other former Soviet states, Russia opted for the use of force in some cases, but not in others even when this was expected, such as the Kyrgyz-Uzbek clashes in 2010.
Although long-term occupation and territorial expansion following the five-day war with Georgia in 2008 was within the realm of possibility, Russia decided to withdraw. Better conventional capabilities have created more options for the Russian leadership to resort to the use of force.
However, better capabilities per se are unlikely to cause Russia to lose sight of the fact that the utility of military force is limited and not suited for the achievement of every policy objective. Rationality in Russian decision-making, when it comes to the use of force as an instrument of policy, is an important context for the fear that improved capabilities are pursued ultimately to prepare for offensive action against the West.
This is not a new insight: in spite of the success of the 2008 modernization program, Russian conventional military power continues to lag far behind the United States and NATO in terms of size, spending, and technological sophistication.
This fact has been conceded even by analysts who have warned about the dangers of a military resurgent Russia, as Gressel cited above. This issue tends to be brushed aside, however, as disparity is merely expected to delay the threat of Russian offensive action. It should not be.
Given the relative weakness of Russia’s conventional military vis-à-vis NATO and the likelihood of serious escalation and defeat, a military offensive on a NATO member state would be highly irrational. It is also far from clear what strategic objective such a move would serve. There is no doubt that in absolute terms Russian conventional military capabilities in 2016 are considerably bigger and better than they were at any point during the post-Soviet period.
The achievements of the 2008 modernization program, which emphasized the efficiency of command structures, the move from mobilization to rapid reaction, and the modernization of technology, have been well documented and were demonstrated during the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.27
Relative to the conventional military power of other great powers, the United States and NATO in particular, Russia’s position remains far from impressive. Although defense spending alone is insufficient as a measure of relative military power, the sheer discrepancy in this respect is worth reiterating. Although Russian defense spending has seen a steady increase since Vladimir Putin’s election as president in 2000, the country’s military budget today is still little more than 10 percent of United States mlitary budget—and a fraction of the NATO alliance as a whole.
Even when the Russian defense budget approached five percent of the gross domestic product in 2015 at the peak of military spending, its entire budget, inclusive of spending on nuclear capabilities, amounted to less than the combined budgets of Germany and Italy.28
In terms of the number and quality of high-tech weaponry, Russia continues to lag far behind Western competitors, especially the United States. Although strides have been made in reforming the Russian defense industry, persistent organizational problems need to be resolved before Russia can start rivaling the West with advanced military technology.
Regarding troop numbers, it is generally assumed Russian military strength in 2015 comprised up to 800,000 personnel. This is sizeable (even compared to the United States’ 1,400,000 active soldiers), but the bulk of the Russian armed forces are poorly trained conscripts.29
When it comes to the combat readiness and operational experience of Russian conventional forces relative to those of the United States, there is little reason to fear Russia is catching up. Although Russian troops have trained in the fighting of large-scale joint inter-service operations in numerous military exercises in the past few years, Russia’s reformed ground forces have never been tested in an actual conflict situation, as both Crimea and Syria were limited in scope and scale.30
Fears over the possibility of Russian offensive action against a NATO member state have not arisen out of the blue. Although longrange Russian bomber flights close to other countries’ airspaces resumed in 2006 and have caused concern for a while, such instances of military provocation continue and have risen in number. Aggressive maneuvers by Russian fighter aircraft, like the buzzing of a US naval vessel in the Baltic Sea in April 2016, have exacerbated concerns Russia was willing to risk a military confrontation with the West.
Moreover, the number and size of Russian military exercises and surprise inspections in its Western military district have mushroomed since the start of the 2008 modernization program. According to figures of the Russian Ministry of Defense, some exercises have involved up to 150,000 military personnel and have honed the country’s ability to fight a large-scale interstate war.31
It remains highly questionable whether preparation for offensive action is the most likely motivation behind these developments. Given the variety of possible ways in which states can wield conventional military power to achieve different objectives, there are more plausible explanations for Russia’s actions vis-à-vis NATO. One explanation, for example, is that Russia is using its military power for swaggering.
This has been defined by Art as the conspicuous display by a state or statesman of one’s military might “to look and feel more powerful or important, to be taken seriously by others in the councils of international decision making, to enhance the nation’s image in the eyes of others.”32
Clearly, after years of decay during which the West had written off Russia as a global military actor, such swaggering, coupled with the interventions in Ukraine and Syria, has been an effective way to enhance the international image of Russia’s shiny, new military power in a comprehensive manner. Given the importance for Russia of being granted great power status on a global level, this explanation makes a great deal of sense, as swaggering can bring prestige “on the cheap,” especially when the country is not in the position to project the image of being a great power by other means.33
The idea that the revival of Russian conventional military power is motivated entirely by the wish to pursue expansionist policies and to build the offensive potential required to defeat the West is reminiscent of the Western school of thought that during the Cold War sought to explain the Soviet defense effort as the result of historical Russian paranoia, aggressiveness, and “mindless lust for territory,” thus depriving Soviet decision-making of any rationality.34 Such an interpretation of Russian motivations and intentions is even more remarkable because the decision to risk offensive action against a NATO state would be even more irrational today than it was at any point during the Cold War given the disparity of the conventional military power balance.
Some observers have expressed the fear Russia, even in the face of military inferiority, might test NATO’s resolve with an attack on one of the Baltic states because a lack of commitment to Article V collective defense might mean the United States and other NATO members would not fulfill their treaty obligations.35…….
NATO’s Options NATO’s and the West’s options for stopping the ongoing revival of Russia’s conventional military power, or to prevent potential future Russian military interventions, are limited. There are choices to be made in deciding how to respond to these developments, especially when it comes to Russian military posturing vis-à-vis NATO, and potential consequences of any responses made need to be weighed up carefully.
As indicated in NATO SACEUR Scaparotti’s May 2016 statement and also by NATO’s actions since the start of the Ukraine conflict in spring 2014, the alliance has decided to take an uncompromisingly tough stance towards Russia, strengthening its presence and posture alongside its eastern borders in order to demonstrate strength, unity, and resolve to deter any potential Russian military aggression or expansionist move against NATO members and allies.
While these measures are likely to reassure NATO member states in eastern and central Europe that have been historically fearful of Russian intentions, their potential long-term consequences for NATO and the West should not be ignored.
It is already obvious Russia is not interpreting NATO’s actions in the spirit intended by the alliance, that is, as defensive measures aimed predominantly at reassuring NATO member states close to its borders. Continuing to perceive NATO troops stationed and exercising close to its borders as a threat to its security and national interests, Russia has reacted by stepping up its military posture and presence, as well as its aggressive rhetoric vis-à-vis NATO.
The experience of the Cold War has taught us what an ever-more intense security dilemma can lead to. If the current trend of uncompromising rhetoric and military posturing on both sides continues, a renewed arms race is a likely outcome. Given Russia’s economic situation and comparative conventional military weakness, the West would probably emerge victorious yet again in such a race.
From this point of view, the scenario of a new arms race would be less disastrous for the West than it would be for Russia, but nonetheless it would be costly for all states and societies involved.
Moreover, the danger of intended or unintended escalation in the face of spiralling tensions is worth bearing in mind. Doing nothing is clearly not an alternative to NATO’s current policies towards Russia. Even if a convincing case can be made that Russian intentions are probably not driven by expansionist policies and that an attack on a NATO member state is highly unlikely, chance and uncertainty make the fears felt by Russia’s closest neighbors understandable and justified.
The question is whether a middle ground between a policy (that will inevitably lead to another arms race with all the costs this involves), and “doing nothing” or a weak response (that could be interpreted as “appeasement”) can be found.
The intensity of current East-West tensions cannot yet be likened to those of the Cold War and rhetoric about a “New Cold War” is not helpful as it “makes it harder for the West to craft realistic policies with respect to both the Ukraine crisis and Russia generally,” as Andrew Monaghan has argued.42
However, certain lessons from the Cold War might be instructive, especially when it comes to NATO’s and the West’s handling of aggressive Russian military posturing. George F. Kennan’s Cold War doctrine of containment, with its emphasis on strength, unity, and readiness to defend against and deter potential Russian expansion, has already experienced a revival and is being discussed amongst some Western leaders and within NATO as a relevant framework for creating responses to Russia.43
As Matthew Rojansky cautioned, there is a tendency to interpret this doctrine falsely as an exclusively military approach. In fact, Kennan’s understanding of containment was a complex and long-term political strategy. Focusing on recognition of the opponent’s vulnerabilities at the same time as strengthening the West’s capacities to find long-term solutions to pressing problems, Kennan explicitly warned against the use of “threats or blustering or superfluous gestures of outward toughness” as this could back the Kremlin into a corner and inadvertently exacerbate the situation.44
The intensity of current East-West tensions will make a renewed attempt at resetting relations with Russia a much more difficult undertaking for the soon-to-be elected new US administration. The new administration will have the opportunity to consider whether a policy of increasingly tough military containment of Russia will serve the future interests of the United States and NATO better than a more balanced approach as advocated by Kennan. The latter will be the more difficult choice because it requires a complex understanding of developments in Russia, as well as the willingness of both sides to communicate. This effort appears worthwhile because as Rojansky argued, it will allow the United States and the West to strike a balance “between demonstrating the collective political will necessary to maintain a credible deterrent, and charting a way forward for negotiated settlement of differences, selective cooperation, and eventual reconciliation in Russia-West relations overall.”
Washington Post: Hillary’s heel – Clinton Foundation donors got access to the State Department.
By Kathleen Parker Opinion writer
August 23 at 7:25 PM
When I wrote the headline “Hillary’s heel,” I was thinking of Achilles, not Bill, though the former president is usually within nipping range of his wife’s pantsuit hem.
Hillary Clinton’s Achilles’ heel is her very Clinton-ness. Rather than tell the truth as soon as possible, a reluctance shared by her husband during his presidency, she has mastered the art of teetering along the knife’s edge of truth. Like a gymnast on a balance beam, she manages to stay within the narrow parameters of lawfulness without losing her footing.
But her long history of avoiding provable infractions despite hundreds of hours of investigations and millions in taxpayer expense — from Whitewater to Benghazi to her private email server — may soon come to an end, not with a gold medal but with an Olympian loss of whatever faith remained in her integrity.
A batch of emails released Monday makes clear that Clinton Foundation donors got access to the State Department.
Some of the email was between Huma Abedin, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the State Department, and an official at the charity. Not all requests appear to have been granted, but the coziness between State and the Clinton family charity exposes a troubling hubris and highlights the emptiness of her personal promise to President Obama to build a firewall between the two institutions when she became his secretary of state.
Among examples reported by The Post:
● Sports executive Casey Wasserman, whose family’s charitable organization has given the Clinton Foundation between $5 million and $10 million, and whose investment company paid Bill Clinton $3.13 million in consulting fees in 2009 and 2010, sought a visa for a British soccer player with a criminal past. It was not granted.
● The crown prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, whose government had given more than $50,000 to the foundation, requested a last-minute meeting with the secretary of state. Granted.
● U2’s Bono, a regular at foundation events, asked for help in broadcasting a live link to the International Space Station during a concert tour. Response from State: “No clue.”
These discoveries, among others, may not amount to much in terms of actual favors, but they cast doubt on the integrity of Hillary Clinton’s word. They also go a long way toward confirming her critics’ allegation that the Clintons were in a global pay-for-play arrangement.
One crucial fact is no longer in dispute: Foundation donors got access to the State Department.
The emails became public through a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, and were among 725 pages of Abedin’s correspondence. The stash also included 20 emails between Abedin and Clinton that weren’t included in the 55,000 pages previously provided to State. Meanwhile, the FBI has turned over about 15,000 other emails and documents to State that were discovered during the agency’s investigation of Clinton’s private server.
Judicial Watch is trying to get these released as well. In the meantime, a State Department spokesman says that many of them were plainly personal.
As if these developments weren’t problematic enough, former secretary of state Colin Powell last weekend denied Clinton’s claim that he advised her to use a private server, as he had done, saying, “Her people are trying to pin it on me.” According to Powell, Clinton had been using her server for at least a year before the two discussed how he had managed his email.
Whether this constitutes a “lie” to the FBI, as some are claiming, or the result of a faulty memory likely will keep busy bees buzzing for a while. But Clinton has bigger worries as more emails continue to trickle out, revealing who knows what. What we already know from FBI Director James B. Comey is that his agency’s investigation found insufficient evidence to charge Clinton, though he did say her handling of classified information was “extremely careless” and that she falsely testified to the House Select Committee on Benghazi that there was no classified material in any of her email.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .
To Republicans, Clinton is a serial liar. To Democrats, she is the perennial target of a right-wing conspiracy. Both appear to be marginally correct. The question for voters may come down to this: How much, if any, substantive harm has Clinton’s lack of absolute clarity on a given subject or event caused?
The only definitive answer thus far is that she has deeply damaged whatever public trust remained — and for a candidate, this can be fatal.
Turkey and the Energy Transit Question.
Posted by: Severin Fischer Tuesday, August 23, 2016
For foreign and security policy analysts, pipelines tend to be the entry point into the world of energy. Pipelines create dependencies between countries, pipelines stay for decades, and pipelines have a highly symbolic political value.
In the European energy security debate, gas pipelines also have an identity function: you either support freeing Europe from its dangerous addiction to Russian gas by backing the Southern Gas Corridor—formerly known as “Nabucco” and designed to bring new gas supplies from the Caspian Basin, Central Asia, and Middle East regions into Europe—or you blindly follow the Kremlin’s breadcrumbs into the Nord Stream/South Stream-energy trap. Critical differentiation is rare.
Today, controversies over pipeline politics have a rather anachronistic flavor. This is mainly due to the growing flexibility of European—and partially global—natural gas markets in light of the massive increase in LNG supply, interconnectors, and spot market trade. This new market environment has not only changed the relationship between producers and consumers but has also altered the political and economic leverage of transit countries. This is especially important when looking at new transit countries, Turkey being a prominent example.
Nowadays, transit countries are not just dependent service providers; they can also have a profound influence on the market share of a supplier. This leverage can be used as a vehicle to negotiate higher transit fees depending on the available flexibility of switching between markets and suppliers on both sides.
The example of Ukraine as a transit country illustrates this quite well: without alternative supply routes, Ukraine can determine the market share of Russian gas in Europe (approximately 60% of Russian export capacity to the EU is via Ukrainian territory.) Once a pipeline is constructed, the temptation for rent-seeking in transit countries—and transit control power—is huge. Therefore, a suppliers’ interest in the physical diversification of transit routes is understandable. This applies as much to the future gas supply architecture of Southeastern Europe as it does to the Nord Stream/Ukraine debate.
With the realization of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP)—a smaller version of the originally planned Nabucco Pipeline and now a Southern Gas Corridor project—two new variables will enter the equation of European energy security. First, natural gas from Azerbaijan could reach European markets for the first time around 2019. Second, Turkey will obtain the position of a transit country for European gas imports; admittedly with limited influence, since only 10 billion cubic meters per year are foreseen for the European market (between 2-3% of total EU gas consumption in 2014.)
In addition to the TANAP project, the recent easing of tensions between Turkey and Russia has revitalized debates about the construction of Turkish Stream, a project that was initiated after a direct pipeline connection between Russia and Bulgaria through the Black Sea (“South Stream”) was cancelled in 2014 due to regulatory conflicts between Gazprom and the European Commission. Turkish Stream would mainly supply the Turkish market, but could also bring gas destined for the EU market to the Turkish-Greek border.
Moreover, should gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea south of Cyprus be commercially and technologically feasible, project developers will be tempted to think about a possible pipeline project serving the Turkish market and potentially re-exporting gas to Southeastern Europe. The Turkish corridor would also be mandatory for all hypothetical deliveries from Iraq, Iran, or Central Asia.
While some analysts positively describe these developments as the creation of the “Gas Hub Turkey,” one could also reframe it as the potential rise of Turkey as a major transit country for (Southeastern) European gas supply. There has been very little debate so far on the subsequent security implications.
With the potentially growing role of Turkey as a transit corridor for European gas supplies, the implications could be twofold. On the one hand, future relations between Azerbaijan and the EU will be strongly influenced by Ankara’s role as the middle man in transporting gas. On the other hand, Turkey could also gain a significant position in EU-Russia gas relations—smaller, but still comparable to the situation of Ukraine today.
The threat of Turkish influence over how much Azeri or (some of the) Russian gas would enter European markets and the potential for rent-seeking in transit fees looks troubling in the current political environment. The willingness of Turkey’s government to link issues such as refugee treatment, visa liberalization, and financial transfers, as has happened recently, should serve as a warning.
This leads to the conclusion that both Russia’s and Europe’s interests would be best served if Turkey were kept out of bilateral energy relations in the future; a possibility that can only materialize if Turkey does not assume a gate-keeper role for several suppliers simultaneously.
Currently, however, the opposite is a very realistic scenario. Since the cancellation of the South Stream project, Russia has declared an unwillingness to deal with the “politically motivated” regulation of the EU Commission on the matter of Southeastern European gas supplies, and only a few EU politicians have shown interest to engage in the issue again.
This has not solved any problem though, since competition between different gas suppliers as well as control over access to the EU market would be transferred into the hands of Turkish authorities in the future.
Therefore, resuming the debate about a smaller version of a direct Russia-EU-link through the Black Sea, which would exclude Turkey, should be seriously revisited by European and Russian stakeholders alike. Provided, of course, that the regulatory control of the third energy package fully applies on EU territory.
Severin Fischer is a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich.
*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*