Nuclear Talks to Resolve the East-West Standoff?

A defunct missile silo in Ukraine. Image: Andy Shustykevych/Flickr

The Ukrainian crisis has entered its second summer. While the ferocity of the clashes in East Ukraine has eased since the Minsk Agreement in February, deadly fighting continues on a daily basis. In the meantime, the conflict has fallen somewhat off the radar of Western media, while the suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ukraine continues. There are no signs on the horizon of any accommodation between the governments of Ukraine and Russia. Must Europe accept an ongoing, low-intensity military conflict on its fringes as the new normal?

The Western bloc’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and subsequent sponsoring of an anti-government insurgency in Donbass has remained remarkably coherent so far. It is also having an effect: as Alexei Kudrin, Putin’s Minister of Finance from 2000 to 2011, remarked last month, “Russia is in the midst of a fully-flegded crisis.”  In part because of the West’s co-ordinated economic pressure the Russian Central Bank expects the country’s GDP to shrink by up to 4% in 2015.   So far this has not prompted a shift in Russian attitudes towards key issues regarding Ukraine. Putin continues to enjoy sky-high domestic approval ratings while the Russian government’s creeping takeover of the media landscape is eliminating political dissent from mainstream outlets. Spinning a tale of aggressive American intervention in Russian affairs, the national media are rallying nationalist sentiments and pushing a narrative of a declining, decadent West, all while successfully maintaining that Russia is not involved in a military conflict with its neighbour Ukraine.

The origins of the East-West stand-off over Ukraine are systemic in nature: neither side is prepared to give any ground. For the West, matters of principle are at stake: the inviolability of Ukraine’s sovereign borders as guaranteed by the Budapest Accords, and the right of nations to choose their alliances freely and without external interference. For the Kremlin, the conflict has become deeply intertwined with wider calculations about regime survival, making unilateral concessions unlikely.

Some 20 years ago, the US and Russia began a process of sustained engagement that culminated in the end of the Cold War. Then, as now, efforts at nuclear arms control could generate the initial diplomatic capital needed for a wider improvement in relations.

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How Could the Baltic States Deter a Russian Invasion?

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė participating in a military ceremony. Image: Kapeksas/Wikimedia

Commentators have used Moscow’s tacit support for separatists in eastern Ukraine as an opportunity to speculate whether the Baltic states possess the capability to deter a similar Russian intervention. While this ‘scenario’ is unlikely to happen any time soon, it nevertheless warrants serious consideration given that NATO’s north-eastern flank is home to a sizeable ethnic Russian community. As a starting point, strategic planners in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania might want to factor Russia’s 2008 military campaign against Georgia into their calculations. Doing so might help them to determine the most effective response for the ultimate ‘worst case scenario’ – an all-out invasion by Russian forces. » More

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Military-wise, There Is No Europe

Image: geralt/Pixabay

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 3 June 2015.

For two decades a wide variety of plans, guidelines and roadmaps have been published and issued on European defense matters. The adoption of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the creation of the European Union Military Committee and European Union Military Staff, the development of the European Defence Agency, the inception of the European Union Battlegroups, and the implementation of several military crisis management operations from Kosovo to Somalia and Iraq to Guinea-Bissau, are all examples of the process by which European states are trying to facilitate the creation of a new post-Cold War era military dimension to European politics. In other words, these above-mentioned projects have been attempts to form a European-wide approach to security and defense policy. » More

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Will the 2018 World Cup Start the Next Football War?

Russia hosting the 2018 soccer World Cup. Soccer player Andrey Arshavin (center) is holding up Russia’s placard. Image: Александр Вильф/Wikimedia

Over the last year, a number of top government officials in the United States and Europe have called upon FIFA to punish Russia by moving the 2018 World Cup to another country. FIFA has refused to do so, claiming that the tournament can be “a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments.” This idea is based on the theory that international sports encourage peace and cooperation between countries. FIFA frequently champions this theory as if it is a proven fact, but without providing much evidence to support it.

The World Cup may influence society in many positive ways, such as by encouraging exercise, entertaining the masses, and giving fellow citizens something to bond over. If it also promoted international peace, we would have yet another reason to feel good about investing so much of our time and energy in it. However, there is more evidence that the opposite is true – that international sporting events like the World Cup actually increase the likelihood of conflict. » More

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Obama Administration Releases New Nuclear Warhead Numbers

Trident missile being fired from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1977. Image: U.S Air Force/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) on 28 April, 2015.

In a speech to the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disclosed new information about the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Updated Stockpile Numbers

First, Kerry updated the DOD nuclear stockpile history by declaring that the stockpile as of September 2014 included 4,717 nuclear warheads. That is a reduction of 87 warheads since September 2013, when the DOD stockpile included 4,804 warheads, or a reduction of about 500 warheads retired since President Obama took office in January 2009.

The September 2014 number of 4,717 warheads is 43 warheads off the estimate we made in our latest FAS Nuclear Notebook in March this year. » More

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