Global Focus Shifts To The High North.

Well there are climate change deniers all over the world but not among the governments of the countries of the Far North. For countries that have territory about the Arctic Circle, global warming and its effects are very real. These countries include:

  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Iceland
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • US

The effects they are observing are not the stuff of tree-hugger rants, but rather an opening of their region to shipping, resource exploitation, tourism, and of course geopolitical rivalry. Global warming in the arctic is reported to be three times the global average and has opened up a world of possibilities, not all of them good.

Russia’s  GDP is estimated to be 25% generated by its arctic territory has a real vested interest in this changing landscape.The Russian military, many of whose northern bases are relics of the Cold War with the US, are being re-militarized. Russia’s biggest concern might be the Northern Sea Route which skirts its northern border and cuts shipping time from Asia to Western Europe by about 2 weeks. Moreover, from the Russian point of view, the US and NATO are uncomfortably active on the periphery of its territory.

The US has its own interests in the arctic. The first is with its NATO allies who must surely be heartened by the fact that the Biden administration has placed such emphasis on its alliances, particularly the key one with its traditional European friends. For example, the US signed a revised agreement with Norway in April allowing it to build facilities in the country with a view toward countering Russian moves in the region. Many analysts see the US playing catch up with the Russians who have been taking their arctic borders seriously for a long time, and who have put in resources to ensure their ability to compete if not dominate all comers. ( For example: Russia has 40 icebreakers vs. just 2 for the US.)

And then there is China. China doesn’t appear on the list of countries with territory in the arctic, but since 2018 China has been referred to as a “near Arctic” country. Clearly, China’s main interest in the High North is with regard to its Belt and Road program. Russia may cast a wary eye on Chinese moves to become a player in arctic development and research feeling hemmed in by its neighbor.

In May 2020 the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting was held and Russia assumed the chair. The message to come out of the meeting was one of peace and stability for the region, and the meeting was of such importance that both US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov took time to make an appearance.

Peace and stability for the region seems like a good thing, and if cooperation is the order of the day it is good. However, with competition heating up, and activity in the region showing no signs of slowing down, it may be just a matter of time before misunderstandings and disagreements arise.

Regardless, it looks like thinkers and planners around the globe from the government and the military will have to add this region to their portfolio of early 21st century potential flashpoints.

Photo: Martha de Jong-Lantik via flickr



Lavrov Spells Out Russia’s Position on China, Korea, the US and Japan.

On January 18, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov gave his annual news conference. The online event lasted just short of 3 hours. After an initial statement spelling out Russia’s position on a number of different issues, Lavrov took questions from journalists around the world. Minister Lavrov was never short of an answer and provided a clear explanation of the Russian view of things.

Mr. Lavrov began by talking about Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V vaccine for the Corona virus. He expressed Russia’s desire to cooperate with other countries in dealing with the pandemic. Germany is now testing Sputnik V, while countries like Belarus, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Algeria have already approved the vaccine which is said to be 91+% effective.

When questioned about the relations between Russia and China, Lavrov said that there is good cooperation between Russia and China, and that in 2021 there will be special emphasis on scientific research between them. He noted that not only have China and Russia stood together on many issues in the United Nations, but also that this is the 20th anniversary of their treaty of friendship. He went on to say that China and Russia have conducted military exercises and continue to do so, not only on land but also in the air.

Good and kind relations with Japan are at the forefront of Russian thinking he said, and that the joint military exercises with China are not targeting any specific country, but are rather designed to protect domestic borders. Mr. Lavrov expressed concern with Japan’s willingness to accept ABM missile systems from the United States. He also noted the US intention to place short and medium range missile systems in the area in addition to the ABM systems.

As for the Korean peninsula, Mr. Lavrov said that while there had been problems between the DPRK and the ROK, and between the DPRK and the US, there had been no actions that lead to military response. He added that Russia is interested for robust peace on the Korean peninsula and that Russia has a plan to offer to deal with the situation when the time is right.

Asked about the case of Russian politician Alexi Navalny, Lavrov said that it was a justice question and not a foreign ministry matter. When pressed further he said that there was not evidence of Mr. Navalny being poisoned with Novichok. He said Russia had not received any tissue samples or clothing samples containing the substance, and that Germany said that its armed forces had made the necessary tests but could not release the results for security reasons.

As for relations with the United States he said that Russia is not expecting any radical changes from the new administration and he wondered if a new START treat would be negotiated before it expires in February. He also said Russia is ready to discuss issues with the US such as:

  • Information security
  • Cyber crime
  • United Nations matters

In closing Mr. Lavrov thanked those organizations connected with helping the Russian diaspora or overseas Russians during the Corona virus pandemic and noted some members had received recognition from the Russian government for their contributions.


Turkey The New Regional Power?

                      by David Parmer / Tokyo

The face of Turkey today is the face of its leader and president, Recp Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan is imposing his vision of the way things might be not just on his own country, but also on his region and indeed the world.

The once proud and powerful Ottoman Empire disappeared after WWI, but it seems to many that the president is determined to bring back the days of glory when the Ottoman Turks were both feared and respected. Mr. Erdogan, using a combination of soft power and military force, might just be the man to do it.

Under Mr. Erdogan Turkey has asserted and inserted itself around its region and beyond. In the not-too-distant past Turkey joined NATO as its only Islamic member and was looking toward possible EU membership. But then Turkey began to assert its own policy which while not anti-western was certainly pro-Turkey.

In home waters Turkey has had an ongoing dispute with the EU over drilling for energy resources off Cyprus. The dispute began in 2018 regarding the exclusive economic zone around Cyprus. Despite opposition and recommendations from the European Council in 2019 Turkey has continued with its exploration activities.

In 2016 the powerful Turkish military began an incursion into Syria to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS/ DAESH). A long and bloody conflict ensued which had its roots all the way back to 2011. During its involvement in the Syrian civil war Turkey has lost at least 300 personnel killed and had numerous aircraft and armored vehicles destroyed. Turkey conducted another major incursion into Syria in 2019 to protect its borders and remove pro-Kurdish forces.

In January 2020 Turkey entered the Libyan civil war on the side of the side of the GNA or Government of National Accord, the established government of Libya. Turkey has reportedly supplied intelligence support, air and naval support as well as introducing Syrian mercenary fighters in support of the government. Turkey’s support and the victory of its proxies would demonstrate to the region and o the world Turkey’s ability to project power and influence the outcome of regional conflicts. In 2020 Turkey has also backed Azerbaijan in its fight with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

And it is not just its neighbors and the Europeans with whom Turkey is asserting itself, now it is the United States. In what seems to be a “no winner” contest Turkey and the US are embroiled in a very unfriendly discussion over Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 “Triumf” missile system, and incredibly lethal air defense weapon that far surpasses the US Patriot missile system.

Turkey was on board to buy the Patriot system but the US refused the technology transfer that would enable it to be copied and built. The Turks retaliated by turning to Russia for the S-400 system and the US retaliated by excluding Turkey (a NATO partner) from its F35 fighter jet program. As of later 2020, Turkey is going ahead with its S-400 acquisition (including test firing) and the US is talking sanctions.

It seems that Mr. Erdogan is determined to make Turkey a real regional power going forward. The Turkish economy is predicted to make a healthy rebound in 2021 despite some contraction. Given that and the president’s popularity among the voters, there is a good chance that modern Turkey just might become the new Ottoman Empire, at least in spirit.

Photo: Pavel Vanka via flickr


The Year Begins With A Bang.

Well, 2020 started off with bang. We are not quiet getting back to things as usual but starting things from a very dangerous place. World tensions were ramped right up to a 9.0 over the US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Tensions have been high since Donald Trump became president, and now they have gone to an all-time high.

As written in an earlier RG21 post, Iran is no match for the US one on one. Iran, however, does have the ability to conduct asymmetric warfare against the US through it naval and Special Forces and its proxies throughout the region.

Even before this, there were signs that things are changing in the region. December 2019 saw the first combined Iranian, Chinese, Russian naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. If there was ever a sign of the waning and waxing of world powers, this could be it. America’s decline in world power and prestige could be traced to these exercises.

2020 also no relief for China in its ongoing problem in Hong Kong. All indications are that this problem will continue throughout the year although council elections in 2019 might have given the democratic opposition the face it needed to be seen as legitimate and to be taken seriously. China’s best bet is to let Hong Kong air its grievances through the ballot box and to responsibly govern under the One Country, Two Systems scheme.

The British people have sent a clear message about Brexit: it is their will that it happen. Before there was doubt, but the election was a “second referendum” and Boris Johnson is empowered to perform Brexit and bring Britain out of the EU.

French President Emmanuel Macron has his own set of problems and demonstrations on a Hong Kong scale minus the violence. It is just possible that Macron will hold on for a long time and join the ranks of France’s most respected presidents.

And the United States is scheduled to have a presidential election in November that will decide whether Donald Trump and the Republicans get another four years, or whether the Democrats can cobble together a coalition of voters strong enough to gain the White House and the senate. The events of the first week of January indicate that 2020 will be truly memorable–that is, if things continue at the current pace.

What is your opinion and what are your predictions for 2020? Please share your ideas with us.

Photo: Ancient Persian Guardsman via flickr.

Turkey’s Military Fully Capable Of Projecting Power.

                            by David Parmer / Tokyo

The Turks live in a rough neighborhood–their country borders Iran, Iraq, Syria, and just across the Black Sea is Russia. So for defense alone they have to have credible military power. Moreover challenges often lie across the border, and they must have the ability to project power cross-border to defend what they see as their national interests. An example of this cross-border power projection was their October 2019 incursion into northern Syria in the wake of US withdrawal.

The Kurdish insurgency has always been a stone in their shoe, and so when the Kurds lost their American shield, it was the perfect vacuum in which to cross the border and deal with the long-standing issue of the Kurdish threat. Turkey easily has the power to do that, and their strength is impressive.

Estimates are that Turkey has 3/4 of a million soldiers under arms with another 1/2 million in reserve. They also have 4200 tanks of all types and 10,000 assorted armored vehicles, 475 helicopters, 1300 self-propelled artillery pieces and 1500 towed artillery pieces. They have over 500 combat aircraft including 270 F16 fighters-the biggest fleet outside of the US military. Although not playing a role in the current cross-border situation, they have a robust but small naval force of 16 frigates and 14 type-209 submarines. They also possess cruise missiles with a range of more that 150 miles.

Kurdish forces were, and are, no match for Turkish might, particularly without their American “allies.” News reports suggest that in the vacuum left by the Americans, the Kurds turned to President Bashar al Assad’s regime and its Russian allies for help. The Russians are now co-patrolling northern Syria with the Turks. It is indeed a complicated situation, for Turkey is a staunch NATO ally, and NATO faces off mainly against Russia.

Turkey gets its military hardware mainly from the US and Germany, NATO allies of theirs. They also have their own defense industry to make equipment like armored vehicles of all types. A surprise for NATO was President Erdogan’s decision to buy the powerful and deadly Russian S-400 Triumph air defense missile system instead of comparable equipment from American or other non-Russian suppliers.

That being said, President Erdogan has to walk a thin line between Russian and the US, its main supplier of military equipment, its NATO partner and the tenant at his Inchlink airbase. However, it is fairly clear that Turkey will not only act in what it sees as its self-interest, but will use its massive military power as it sees fit and will be willing to face criticism or even harsh sanctions to do so.

It is a complicated situation for all parties concerned. What is your opinion on this matter?

Photo:BMC Turkey,

Russian Naval Exercises Underscore Strategic Baltic Importance.

In a world where conflict and potential conflict makes front-page news, northern Europe’s Baltic region often gets short shrift. The Indo-Pacific, The Middle East, and even Africa seem to get more coverage. Yet for a long time things have been heating up at the top of the world.

America has its eyes on arctic security and its military has established coverage of the northern areas of the globe particularly the north Atlantic. In addition to keeping an early warning system in place, the US is also committed to freedom of navigation in the North, as it is the China Sea.

 Even China has arctic interests related to its Belt and Road initiative although, strictly speaking, it is an interested party and not an Arctic country. Naturally, the true Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark have an interest in this domain, as it is their home neighborhood.

The Nordics have banded together to form NORDEFCO, to address the question of defense, mutual operability, and cooperation. (Some members of NORDEFCO are NATO members, and some are not.)

On the southern and eastern flank of the NORDEFCO countries lie the Baltic Sea and the vitally important states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These states form a buffer between the Russian Federation and the Baltic Sea. Russia’s only window on the Baltic are at the head of the Gulf of Finland and at Kalingrad (former East Prussia) where they have significant military assets.

For the second time in 2 years, Russia has put on a massive summer military exercise in the Baltic Sea. The exercise ran from 1 August to 9 August 2019. Dubbed “Ocean Shield 2019”, the exercise tested Russian equipment and tactics and fleet readiness with the US and NATO as its undeclared opponent. The exercise, which included amphibious landings, involved 10,000 Russian troops, 49 ships, and 58 aircraft.

British Forces in Estonia.

NATO is well aware of Russia’s ability to project power in this part of the North. To bolster its own flanks, NATO proposed and implemented the Enhanced Forward Presence program (eFP) where NATO units would integrate, train and operate with the militaries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The result was 4 multinational battle groups supported by the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US. Their mission is to ensure the Baltic countries’ security. Units train with host nations and rotate every 6 months.

With global warming making Arctic transit more possible for longer times, and the never ending search for resources and China’s ongoing Belt and Road, access to the North whether it be the Arctic or the Baltic region will grow in importance. US officials predict that human activity will increase in what was heretofore remote and inaccessible land and sea areas. The Indo-Pacific and Middle East will continue to simmer, but from now on all major powers will have to keep their eyes looking north a lot of the time.

Photo: Russia MOD

British Troops in Estonia via flickr

U.S. General Mark Milley: “China is not an Enemy”

                          by David Parmer/Tokyo

At an event at the National Press Club on July 27, in Washington, Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Milley laid out US global policy in a direct and concise manner. The general touched on three main areas and explained current US Army and US government thinking on them:

  • Security Challenges
  • Army readiness
  • Myths about the military 

Security Challenges

Milley said the US faces four nation states:

  • Russia
  • North Korea
  • China
  • Iran

And one non-state actor:

  • Terrorists

He said that an adversary must have “capability and will” to engage in or start a conflict. He said Russia is a “purely rational actor” and that despite differences we share areas of common interest.

As for China, he called China a “significant rising power” and that China had made the most significant shift in Global economic power in the last five centuries.”

He said that China also has capability and will, and has laid out its plans for the “China Dream” very clearly. It will proceed peacefully but has a capable military force to back up its interests.

He added, “China is not an enemy. Neither is Russia for that matter.” What is possible is “competition without conflict.”   And “China is also a rational actor.”

Iran tries to undermine U.S. national security interests in the Middle East.

North Korea is “the single most dangerous threat” at the present time.

“Time is running out.”

Terrorism, he said, will be “A long struggle.”

 Army readiness

The general said that the real question about your army is “What do you want it to do?” Since 1945 at the Breton Woods Conference the US has fielded a global military in support of the World Order. The U.S. now has 180,000 soldiers under arms. The General said that he believes we need a bigger Army. He also said that he believes that there has been a change in the character of war, and that future wars will be urban combat following the world trend for urbanization. He citied the battle of Mosul as an example of this trend manifesting in the present.

5 Myths of War

The general listed five myths of war and gave their corollaries in his estimation.

  • Wars will be short–they will not, they will take time
  • You can win wars from afar–you can’t there must be boots on the ground
  • Special Forces can do it all–they can’t and shouldn’t be asked to
  • Armies are easy to create–they aren’t, it takes time and training
  • Armies fight wars–nations fight wars

In closing General Milley took prepared questions. Two significant answers that he gave were regarding the situation on the Korean peninsula.

“No good options”

” It’s not going to be a pretty picture.” (A possible war in Korea)

Video: CSPAN

Photo: CSPAN

Asian Waters–The Frozen Songhua River

                           by David Parmer / Tokyo


Northeast China’s Songhua River, China’s most northern river system, starts in an otherworldly location called Heaven Lake on the border with North Korea. The lake is a source for three rivers, the Songhua, the Tumen and the Yalu. Flowing north, and east, it passes the city of Jilin and meanders to Harbin and then joins the mighty Amur River and rolls into Khabarovsk and then on to the sea.

The Songhua is navigable up to Harbin, but for basically half the year, from November till April it is frozen solid. In Harbin the frozen Songhua provides a venue for winter recreation and Harbin’s world-famous Ice Festival.

In history, the Songhua River has been prominent in Chinese-Russian relations and in the building of the China Eastern Railway. In 2005 a chemical spill polluted the drinking water of Harbin and Khabarovsk. Today the Songhua River is quiet, and as the days pass into autumn the water will be getting ready for its annual freeze and Harbin for its festive time.

Source of Songhua, Yalu

Changbi Waterfall, Heaven Lake (China/N. Korea border)

Photo:   Harbin Ice Festival via flickr, Jarod Carruthers

Photo: Changbai Waterfall via flickr, Joe Jiang