By Johan Wiktorin, editor
As of 2014, the world finds it in its worst humanitarian situation since World War 2 with more than 50 million people on the run from war, famine and extraordinary hardships. A situation triggered by demography, corruption and unemployment as main drivers draped in religious and/or nationalistic colors.
For Europe the situation will be more and more demanding over time, should not it alter direction. As a prosperous continent with unprecedented time of peace and relative stability, we have become over-confident in our strategies and outlook.
The world is moving and the economical power moves past us all in an eastern direction, while at the same time the European population is aging and losing competitiveness for every year.
But in the short term, the challenges ahead are of another type. War. War on terrorism, Civil-war on the European edges, Trade-war or the threat of a full-scale Conventional war.
In Ukraine, the Russian destabilization efforts grows by the day. From the illegal, but skilled annexation of Crimea to the transfer of heavy equipment such as tanks, self-propelled artillery and qualified SAM-systems the parties in Ukraine will soon meet in full force.
The Ukrainian government has put their act together and pushes the separatists steadily back every week, which means that Kreml has to decide what to do. Given their fetishism for Maskirovka, they will opt for an act of surprise and there are some interesting and troubling options.
They could of course re-invade Ukraine quite open again with the Russian army, but it is a move that diminish freedom of action for use of the military instrument elsewhere. It is easier to enter a war, than to exit. However, they could do the same, but in another pre-text. President Putin could order the Russian ”peacekeeping” troops inside eastern Ukraine in order to disarm and neutralize the separatists.
Such an operation would demonstrate a Kremlin point, that Kiyv can not control its territory but Russia can. The objective would be to stop ”the Europisation” of Ukraine by creating a frozen conflict, a Russian specialty from Caucasus. By manipulating the parties on the ground Moscow could influence the future, so they would think.
And there is surely one perspective missing in the discussions regarding Ukraine. The common wisdom about counter-insurgency is that you must deny the insurgency/guerrillas/separatists a supply line and logistical bases in the neighbors’ territories. And in this case, one of them happens to be Russia, which make that task almost impossible for Kiyv as long as Kremlin has the political will to do so. And they most surely have.
The support for the political will in Russia is underrated as is the historical experiences and knowledge of the Russian people to endure hardships. It is easy to forget that Russia under Putin has multiplied its GDP per capita, lowered its debt, filling its gold-reserves and raised pensions almost every year.
So, if Ivan and Olga could survive the 90′s, they will try to ride out this one too and back their leadership given tradition and the level of propaganda in the state-television. The financial burden on Russia will more come from a potential drop in oil prices, than from European and American sanctions. The connection between the price of oil and spending in the budget will work as another incitement to raise the risk and thus the price of the black gold.
There are also plenty of opportunities to open another front. Moldavia, Armenia/Azerbaijan and Georgia to name a few, but there are a few more even more troublesome as Afghanistan and the Baltics. Such development could stem from the Russian habit of acting in a dialectic manner, when perceiving threat.
Moscow knows a lot about Afghanistan since the 70′s and the 80′s. The country’s corruption dwarfs Russia’s own. There is no admitted new president in Kabul yet as Mr Abdullah and Mr Ghani still argues who has won and if it was a fair election. Whoever is declared winner in the end, Afghanistan will continue to be a divided country. Most probably it will be Mr Ghani who will be in the driving-seat, but the army will be run by others i.e Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Moscow has maintained relations with them as well as the former republics of the Sovietunion, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It could be tempting to have them to shut their borders for the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan that is accelerating during the autumn. That would force US/NATO to get out via Pakistan, exposing their dwindling troops to the Talibans on both side of the border.
Could also the Afghan army be convinced to slow their work temporally, the field is open for such scenario, which will fit into an Afghan tradition when it comes to the treatment of western forces. A beaten NATO-force leaving the country would be strategic defeat for the West, having ramifications in other areas. On the other hand, Western nation could pay its way out with no other repercussions than an even emptier wallet.
In the other direction we have the Baltics with the former republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as Sweden and Finland. The difficult thing for Kremlin in this area is that socio-economics are rather good and the former republics feel much more comfortable by have chosen EU/NATO instead of Russia.
Though, Moscow has many weapons in its arsenal, one being corruption. Especially Latvia is rife for exploitation by a triad of money, organized crime and large Russian speaking miniority. Social disorder could be provoked for limited purposes, which could trigger a show of force, thereby forcing US/NATO to take their eyes from Ukraine.
A disturbing fact for the Alliance is that Sweden the last two decades has cut its forces drastically. During the Cold War, Sweden had an impressive military force, which supported Finland’s freedom. When the Warzsaw-pact collapsed Sweden contributed to the successful parting of the Baltic states from Russian sphere of influence.
Nowadays, Sweden is halfway through a reform to establish a small, expeditionary force directed for peace-support operations. While, the political parties claim that this force also can defend its vast territory, a trained professional easily recognize that the force is inferior for such a task.
Particularly, it is the weak control of the island Gotland in the central Baltic Sea, which present itself as a target of opportunity for an aggressor. In order for the West to reinforce the Baltic states, Gotland must be controlled and not be used as a staging area for an extended Air Defence Zone for the Russian president.
The same goes for the demilitarized island of Aland, which is part of Finland, controlling the Sea Lanes of Communications between Saint Petersburg and the outside world. As a coincidence, the Russian airborne troops last week staged a strategic exercise for validating its ability to seize two relative undefended areas. The exercised concluded with a airdrop of 2600 troops, which is impressive even by Western standards.
The key to deterring all this is of course the political will of the United States. The past years we have witnessed more and more open pressures by US leaders, when it comes to the military contributions of the Europeans. With a more conservative attitude of the American people to employ military force, we should listen carefully to these as it takes time to influence them away from greater isolation.
President Obama has been listening, judging from his careful approach towards the employment of military force. Many in the establishment thinks he has listened too carefully and that might also be Vladimir Putins sentence too. It is fascinating, that his contender in the last election, Mitt Romney, declared Russia as the US geopolitical enemy number one and that US should not leave Iraq, and that was treated as an obsolete outlook of the world.
In the halls of Kremlin, the different power-clans have most probably figured out that there will be another tone in US election 2016, which give them two years to push forward in the case they perceive the American president too weak.
This phenomena is reminiscent of the 30′s in Germany. When Hitler rose to power, he directed his generals and admirals to plan for war 1945. But, when Western powers hesitated during the crisis and provocations, he pushed his luck and went to war half-prepared as it turned out late 1941 outside Moscow. The arousal of successes could be very dangerous for one’s judgement.
The big and bad difference of that comparison is that Russia is a leading nuclear power with a new concept for de-escalation by the use of tactical nuclear weapons, ”if the existence of the State is threatened”. It could in worst case read ”if we moved ourselves in a dangerous situation and feel we have no other way out”.
Therefore, the news that Russia have broke the INF-treaty and are worrying signs and leaves the US president with a difficult choice. Either bring forward their own delivery vehicles for tactical nuclear weapons to Europe and risk a split in the Alliance and an escalation or do nothing, which could make the Europeans feel abandoned.
As it would not be enough, Europe also faces a growing threat in the Mediterranean area as well, with the rise of militant islamism or jihadism. In the euphoria of 2011, when London and Paris foremost changed their policies from supporting corrupt dictators by trade and went for embracing democracy, stability was lost from Libya to Syria.
That loss is now coming back to haunt Europe as the parties involved becomes more polarized, especially in the Levant. The establishment of the Islamic State is the most typical example. While, their behaviour is appalling as a kind of early days Djingis Khan or the Khmer Rouge, Europeans should not underestimate their ability to organize.
The Islamic State possess two things, which are rare in the region. One is an unified purpose and the other is a relative low level of corruption, which translates into efficiency. They try to copy the successful social services carried out by their sectarian enemies of Hizbollah with some success.
This will make it much harder to root out as long as the central governments in Iraq or Syria can not come up with accepted and viable alternatives. It is also to be noted that there also be a hand of Assad in the creation of IS, how absurd it may appear. Given Damascus mastery of manipulating in the region for some 50+ years and the Modus Operandi for regimes in similar circumstances as the Algerians and the GIA as an example, one can not exclude that possibility. In worst case the Syrian war can continue almost indefinitely.
The strain from this area affects Europe in two ways. One is an increase in migration, as asylum-seekers turn up at the gates of Europe. While an increase of labor is wishful for an aging population, it is harder to integrate these in times of huge unemployment as is the case in Southern Europe at the moment.
This could lead to tensions between the countries in the European Union and within the countries themselves, when there is a lack of burden-sharing or acceptance of the parts of burden-sharing that exists.
Europe is, as stated above, a rich continent and will cope with an increase of refugees. The other problem is harder to handle, because it needs granularity and that is the need of countering the recruitment, deployment and possible plots of jihadists from Europe fighting for IS and other jihad-enterprises in its neighborhood.
In a time of more individual freedom, acknowledged in European law to protect the individual from unnecessary intrusion by the State, Europe is up to a big challenge to find the relative small numbers of jihadists wanting to hurt the liberal democracies from within. The Western way of living make us all an enemy in the eyes of determined people, who claim to have all the answers.
With an established state as the Islamic State in a land-locked area of the Middle East as a back-up, they could lean upon some unprecedented financial muscles for terrorists and a pool of volunteers to reinforce their numbers. In order to keep that state from consolidate, the Western world would most likely have to be on the offensive in the region politically, not just military.
And if EU does not find efficient methods to filter out extremists at home, there is a heightened risk that sweeps will be too big and thus pushing other people in a direction of radicalization. If or when, such an increase would be true, Europe would find itself in a struggle against an enemy from within.
The danger of that is not of be defeated from such a threat, which is impossible from a demographic and socio-economic standpoint. The danger is the distraction from the far more serious threat as the Russian resurgence and aggression.
In every capital of Europe, especially in Bruxelles, there is now an urgent requirement for a determined Adenauer to create a vision to cope with these demands and a viable strategy to implement that vision, while at the same stay competitive and coherent. Otherwise the time of the Great Peace may end, eventually.