Monday, February 29, 2016

Wars And Rumors Of War Dominate The Daily News

As we approach the end of the age, we have already seen more deaths over the last generation than any other period in history. These days rumors of war circulate daily - in fact its hard to open the news cycle on any given day and not see a new "rumor of war":

In what is being billed as an attempt to repel "Russian aggression" in the Nordic and Baltic regions, the Pentagon has announced plans to boost its European defense in 2017, with a significant ramp-up in joint military exercises with Nordic and Baltic partners, Defense News reported.

As part of the expansion, American forces have arranged for storage in Norway to house heavy equipment, including M1A1 Abrams tanks and amphibious assault vehicles. The US military reportedly deployed this equipment two weeks ago, in classified Cold War-era caves in Norway, in efforts to better equip stations near the NATO-Russia frontier. Norway shares a 121.6-mile long border with the Russian Federation.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that NATO’s expansion along its border was "insane" and unnecessary. Specifically, President Putin said, "I think that only an insane person who is in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia."

Stephen Cohen, a New York University professor emeritus specializing in Russian studies, goes further, arguing that NATO expansion is a prelude to conflict. "The last time I can remember there was this kind of hostile military force on Russia’s borders is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941," said Cohen.

The $6 billion militarization along the border between Russia and Norway is funded, in part, by the “European Reassurance Initiative,” advanced by President Obama in recent weeks, calling for a quadrupling of the presence of the US military in Europe.

The expansion comes after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared that Russia is “intimidating its neighbors.” In the past year, US military officials have made whimsical statements about Russia, calling it the "greatest threat" to world security. Spokespersons at the Pentagon and the current NATO commander have referred to Moscow as an "existential threat."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that a fragile truce in Syria appeared to be largely holding but the alliance was concerned by a Russian military build-up in Syria.
France, though, said it had information about fresh attacks on zones held by moderate rebels, and called for an immediate meeting of the Syria task force to address breaches of the cessation of hostilities that came into force on Friday.
The cessation of hostilities deal is the first of its kind to be attempted in four years. Syria’s conflict began in 2011.
Stoltenberg told a news conference in the Gulf Arab state of Kuwait: “We have seen some encouraging developments that the ceasefire is largely holding but at the same time we have seen some reports about violations of the ceasefire.

“This agreement and the full implementation of the agreement is the best possible basis for renewing the efforts to find a political negotiated peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria,” he added.
The deal, which is less binding than a formal ceasefire and was not directly signed by Syria’s warring government and rebel forces, does not cover action against militants from Islamic State or the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his big power ally, Russia, say they will continue to fight militant forces. Other rebels say they fear this stance may be used to justify attacks against them too.
“We are concerned,” Stoltenberg said, “about the significant Russian military build-up we have seen in Syria with the ground troops, with the naval forces in eastern Mediterranean and with air forces conducting air strikes.”

US President Barack Obama is pushing for a significant military increase in Eastern Europe, citing fears of Russian "aggression." As American authors Lawrence Korb and Eric Goepel point out for Defense One, the plan is wasteful and an unnecessary provocation.

"…The [US] Department of Defense has fallen back on a tried-and-true Cold War boogeyman: the threat of Russian aggression against allies in Europe," Korb and Goepel, both with the Center for American Progress, write for Defense One.

President Obama’s recently unveiled $600 billion defense budget includes $3 billion to boost the US military presence in Eastern Europe.

"Obama just asked Congress to fund the biggest military buildup by NATO in Eastern Europe since the Cold War," Korb and Goepel write.

"A NATO buildup of this magnitude also neglects to take into account just how provocative such a move would be; by concentrating troops on Russia’s border, we are playing into Putin’s long-standing criticisms of NATO encirclement."

The article also points out the absurdity of thinking that Russia has any interest in invading a NATO country.
"Claims that any NATO member is at risk of Russian invasion is a flawed reading of recent history," they write. "…The idea that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] would risk a war with NATO is ridiculous on its face."

Citing Russian "aggression" has more to do with justifying the Pentagon’s exorbitant budget, especially since that money could be put to better use.
"The Defense Department is inflating the threat Russia poses, which allows the Obama administration, senior military leaders, and supporters in Congress to justify maintaining the historic highs in defense spending, which in real terms is now more than the US spent during the Cold War," Korb and Goepel write.
"Billions that go to support placing more equipment in Eastern Europe and putting an armored brigade on rotation are billions that cannot be spent retraining US workers or rebuilding America’s failing infrastructure."

Turkey’s military is assembling forces it could use to intervene in Syria, wrecking the fragile US-Russia negotiated ceasefire and setting off a wider war, retired US Army Colonel Doug Macgregor told Sputnik.

"The Turks are assembling forces," McGregor, leading US expert on Middle East war and integrated ground combat tactics in modern warfare, warned.

Lieutenant General Sergei Kuralenko, the commander of the Russian center on reconciliation in Syria, expressed the same concerns about the Turkish buildup to reporters at the Hmeimim airbase near Latakia in Syria on Monday.
Kuralenko confirmed the deployment of reinforcements, including armed vehicles by Turkey on the Syrian border, and he too expressed concern that such moves could lead to the derailment of the fragile three-day-old truce in Syria.
Macgregor agreed that the ceasefire could still be derailed or sabotaged.

"I am not sure this arrangement is more than a temporary respite from the fighting," he said.

Wider conflicts in the region such as Turkey’s continuing feud with its more than 20-million-strong Kurdish minority, or the growing enmity between Sunni and Shia Muslim states and communities in the region, posed long-term, structural threats to the Syrian peace deal, he noted.
"We are at the beginning, not the end of the fighting in the Levant and Mesopotamia," Macgregor cautioned.

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