Proposed US weapons deliveries to Ukraine raise fears of further escalation

(By Deutsche Welle) Calls in the US to supply Kyiv with weapons have been met with deep skepticism in Western Europe. As rebels in Ukraine gain ground, NATO is divided over how to prevent a broader conflict.

Two of Washington’s key European allies have rejected calls in the US to supply Kyiv with lethal military assistance, exposing potential fault lines within NATO as the war in eastern Ukraine continues to escalate.

The White House’s pick for defense secretary said on Wednesday that he was “inclined” to support supplying Ukraine with “lethal arms.”

“We need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” Ashton Carter said during a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN earlier in the week that the administration was reviewing the question of arms deliveries.

Opposition within NATO

But across the Atlantic, major European allies have been frank in their opposition. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters that Paris has “no intention of delivering weapons at this stage to Ukraine.” His comments echoed the long-standing German position, which Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated during a visit to Budapest on Monday.

“Germany will not support Ukraine with weapons,” Merkel told reporters. “I am firmly convinced that this conflict cannot be resolved militarily.”

Berlin’s opposition to weapons deliveries could play a critical role in White House deliberations. White House adviser Rhodes has called Merkel the “most important international partner on Ukraine.” He said that Obama and the chancellor would discuss Ukraine face-to-face during a “very important meeting” at the White House on February 9.

Kimberly Marten, an expert on Russian foreign policy at Columbia University, said that the reservations in Europe were well founded.

“There does not appear to be an endgame in the weapons proposal,” Marten told DW via email. “What will the US do if the fighting becomes worse and expands to more Ukrainian territory if we send in weapons?”

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NATO moves to apply armed conflict law to cyber warfare

(By Deutsche Welle) The NATO alliance is pushing for a more robust cyber defense strategy ahead of its September summit in Wales. The allies are likely to express their support for applying the law of armed conflict to cyber warfare.

After operating for years without a clear legal framework, NATO’s 28 member states are moving closer to officially applying the law of armed conflict to cyber warfare, a move that would have far-reaching consequences on how military operations are conducted in the digital age.

“The allies will be in a position to express themselves in a sense that international law applies to cyberspace,” Christian Lifländer, a policy officer with the Cyber Defense Section at NATO headquarters, told Deutsche Welle at the Global Media Forum in Bonn this Wednesday (02.07.2014). He was responding to a question about what the alliance will propose at its September summit in Wales.

“NATO cannot make laws – but the allies can express their support for international law,” Lifländer said, specifically mentioning the law of armed conflict.

Applying the law of armed conflict to cyber warfare would provide greater clarity to the member states’ militaries on how to conduct cyber operations, according to Michael Schmitt, director of the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the United States Naval War College.

“It’s a very important move and one that’s overdue,” Schmitt told DW.”The notion of going to war without understanding what law applies and how it applies to your cyber operations in an era when cyber operations are central to armed conflict is, to me, very troubling.”

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Karzai passes the buck on US troop immunity

(By Deutsche Welle) Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the Loya Jirga to decide whether US forces should receive immunity from local prosecution. Washington has threatened to pull out all of its troops if immunity is not granted.

For almost a year now, Washington and Kabul have butted heads over the details of a bilateral security agreement, which will govern a potential US troop presence in Afghanistan after NATO withdraws its combat forces in December, 2014.

The Obama administration reportedly wants to maintain between 5,000 – 10,000 troops and nine bases in Afghanistan to advise and train security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.

In early October, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Karzai in Kabul, where the two men said they’d hammered out a basic draft agreement. But the issue of US troop immunity remained unresolved.

Despite Washington’s call for an agreement to be concluded as quickly as possible, Karzai has opted to convene a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to vote on the draft in November and decide whether or not US troops should enjoy legal immunity from the Afghan judicial system.

“The Afghan constitution says that in questions of immense national important a Loya Jirga can be called and that’s what Karzai is doing,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told DW. “The Loya Jirga usually is doing what the current rulers want from them – that’s the experience from history.”

“The thing is there’s always a margin of error, of uncertainty in it,” Ruttig said. “So it can of course happen that – particularly if there’s an incident briefly before – the mood swings and the agreement falls through.”

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Turkey’s planned China arms deal ruffles feathers

(By Deutsche Welle) NATO member Turkey has agreed to enter negotiations with China over the delivery of a missile defense system, upsetting the United States and leading to a swift reaction from Washington.

The Turkish government’s preliminary decision to opt for a Chinese-made missile defense system over EU and US alternatives has angered Washington, with the State Department warning that Chinese technology cannot be integrated into NATO’s defense infrastructure.

Ankara has agreed to begin negotiations with Beijing over the delivery of 12 FD-2000 missile defense batteries, worth an estimated $3.4 billion (2.4 billion euros). Although the deal has not yet been signed, the Turkish Defense Ministry has openly said it prefers the Chinese offer, citing the cheap price and Beijing’s willingness to transfer the FD-2000’s technology to Ankara.

“We had asked for joint production and technology transfer,” Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told the Vatan newspaper. “If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.”

But the Chinese company handling the deal has also been sanctioned by the United States as a result of its previous exports. The China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) has allegedly transferred arms to Iran, North Korea and Syria.

“We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government’s contract discussions with the US-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing for reporters.

According to Turkish foreign policy expert Sinan Ülgen, Ankara is not seeking to send any sort of political message to its NATO allies by opting for a system produced by a US-blacklisted company. Instead, Beijing’s offer was simply better than those made by the US companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as well as the Franco-Italian firm Eurosam.

“This [Chinese] company happened to fulfill the criteria Turkey had set for itself in terms of price, in terms of performance and in terms of technology transfer,” Ülgen , with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told DW.

“And Turkey’s own national objectives were more important than the fact that this company happened to sanctioned by the US,” Ülgen said.

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Insider attacks threaten NATO mission in Afghanistan

(By Deutsche Welle) A spike in insider attacks on NATO troops by Afghan soldiers and police has threatened to undermine trust between the comrades-in-arms. NATO has begun to resume work with Afghan units after suspending joint patrols.

After a decade of war and just two years before NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline, the US-led military coalition and Afghan forces are struggling to maintain confidence in each other amid a rise in insider attacks. NATO has begun to slowly lift a week-long suspension of joint patrols with Afghan security forces, which had been imposed as a consequence of the “green-on-blue” attacks.

The Long War Journal, a website devoted to tracking the so-called “global war on terrorism,” has reported that 51 coalition troops have been killed at the hands of rogue members of the Afghan military and police in 2012. That represents 15 percent of the total casualties suffered by the international coalition this year and a 35 percent increase over the number of green-on-blue attacks in 2011. Green refers to Afghan forces and blue to coalition troops.

“We’re all seized with (the) problem,” General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the American Forces Press Service. “You can’t whitewash it. We can’t convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change.”

“But we’ve got to make sure our Afghan counterparts are as seized about it as we are,” said America’s top military officer. “We have to get on top of this. It is a very serious threat to the campaign.”

Although NATO claims that most of the attacks are the consequence of cultural differences and personal disputes, the Afghan government has said that the insider attacks are largely due to infiltration by Taliban insurgents, supported by the Iranian and Pakistani intelligence services.

“The National Security Council has enough evidence to prove that Afghans are being used and brainwashed by these foreign agencies,” Aymal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told the Washington Post. “They see this as a way of attacking the buildup of the Afghan National Security Forces…proving that they are weak and unable to protect the country.”

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Bleak prospects for no-fly zone over Syria

(Deutsche Welle) With the UN peace plan in tatters, regional battle lines are being drawn in Syria. Calls for a no-fly zone have grown, but the West remains reluctant to intervene during an election year and an economic crisis.

As Syria enters its 18th month of bloodshed, the conflict there has increasingly become a regional proxy war, with the United States and its allies – particularly Turkey – facing the difficult question of how to proceed in the wake of the failure of diplomacy to end the violence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Istanbul over the weekend, where she met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss what she called ways to “hasten the end of the bloodshed and [President Bashar] Assad’s regime.”

When asked by a reporter whether establishing safety or no-fly zones was under consideration,she indicated that both Washington and Istanbul were actively weighing the pros and cons of a military intervention.

“It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions,” Clinton told a press conference after her meeting with the Turkish foreign minister on Saturday. “But you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning. And we share not only the frustration, but the anger and outrage of the Syrian people at what this regime continues to do.”

As the civil war in Syria has escalated, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated and increasingly strained the resources of neighboring countries, particularly Turkey. The UN refugee agency reports that almost 150,000 Syrians have fled their homeland since the uprising began, with at least 50,000 taking refuge in Turkey alone.

According to the UN, the widespread and indiscriminate use of warplanes and helicopter gunships by the government against rebel forces in the city of Aleppo has led to a spike in the stream of refugees. Meanwhile, Western nations have expressed concern that the Assad regime could use its alleged chemical weapons in an act of desperation, or simply lose control of them as Syria slides toward collapse.

“The range of contingencies people are discussing is very much larger and there’s going to be a broader debate about responses, including a no-fly zone,” Ian Lesser, director of the Transatlantic Center with the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, told DW.

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US, Europe struggle to redefine partnership in a changing world

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama has called on America and Europe to renew their flagging global leadership. But the Atlantic partners first must redefine their relationship in the face of Arab uprisings and Asian strength.

In his address to the British Parliament, Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to take on a global leadership role by setting a democratic example to the rest of the world, even as the decade-long war in Afghanistan grinds on and a stubborn financial crisis worries both sides of the Atlantic.

Obama’s speech on Wednesday, the first by an American president in London’s 900-year-old Westminster Hall, was the keynote address of a European tour that led him from Ireland to Poland in a bid to inspire a renewed sense of purpose in a Western world demoralized by a wrenching start to the new millennium.

The trans-Atlantic partnership has survived the 10-year crisis that began with the September 11 attacks and ended with the near collapse of the global financial system. As a new decade dawns, Europe and the US are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their historic partnership is changing in response to revolts in the Arab world and stunning economic growth in Asia.

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