Tuesday, April 24, 2018

No Balkan Holiday

Only a fool thinks there will be peace in the Balkans forever. Especially with the patchwork of frozen conflicts left by NATO through the 1990s, it is only a matter of time until it heats up again. As always, the concern is who else will get caught up in it?

Over at WOTR, Michael Carpenter and Mieczysław P. Boduszyński are tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that history is a jealous mistress;
With nationalist-populist forces threatening to reverse decades of European integration across the continent — from Brexit in the United Kingdom to Catalan separatism in Spain to Lombard regionalism in Italy — European and American policymakers can no longer take for granted the security and stability of the Balkans, or Europe for that matter. The Balkans are too often ignored in the West on the naïve assumption that the region has permanently transitioned from a net “consumer” of security assistance to a net “provider.” However, history is not linear, and the region’s security troubles are not permanently behind it. The ghosts of the past — ethno-nationalism, admiration for strongmen, a belief in illiberal democracy — are appearing with greater frequency across Europe, and the Balkans are no exception.
Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, Russian influence in the Balkans was relatively weak. Moscow may have backed Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s, but when push came to shove it was unwilling to go to bat for the embattled dictator, who was ousted in popular protests in 2000 and eventually tried in an international criminal court. Russia opposed the 1999 NATO air war over Serbia and Kosovo, but after initially trying to contest the U.S. military presence in Kosovo during the famed standoff at the Pristina airport, the Russians eventually backed down. In 2003, Russia pulled its “blue helmet” peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosovo, removing a potential source of leverage. Afterward, Moscow seemed content to limit its Balkan engagement to energy diplomacy, such as pushing for the ill-fated South Stream pipeline.

What a difference a decade makes. By 2015, an assertive Russia, led by an increasingly emboldened Vladimir Putin, feeding off resurgent Balkan nationalism, local victimhood narratives, frustration with stalled E.U. enlargement, and historical ties to Orthodox Slavs in the region, was actively undermining democracy in the region. Moscow’s well-honed propaganda and disinformation campaigns have become a staple in Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and the Serbian regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Drawing from a playbook it has tested in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and the Baltic states, and bolstered by its successes backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Moscow has sought to sow mistrust of Western motives and internal divisions among Balkan publics.
We should ask ourselves this question; what is in the American interest?

We are now in an alliance with Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania - with other bits begging to get in - so the odds of getting pulled in are larger than some think. On balance though, this is an European issue and they should be in lead, if anyone.

I don't claim to know what direction this will go. I do respect its instability. I've participated in attacks in the Balkans, I've spent a couple of weeks there, and my daughter a couple of months. I've served with a few Croatians and Macedonians. I work with and live around Bosnian refugees. I have no illusions that the story there is not over.

War in the immediate future doesn't have to take place. Plenty of off ramps and the authors do see hope. Sadly, their plea at the end has more hope than promise;
The time to focus on the Western Balkans is now, while the European Union and United States still have the combined resources to incentivize reforms and strengthen rule of law. On the Macedonia name issue and the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, deft diplomacy and the right incentives can steer these seemingly intractable problems towards lasting resolutions. Containment of separatist threats in Republika Srpska and ultimately reform of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s governing institutions can stem and even reverse a slow slide towards ethnic fragmentation.

As we learned from the Balkan wars of the 1990s and from Russia’s more recent wars against Georgia and Ukraine, it is better for the West to deal with looming issues before they devolve into dangerous security dilemmas and conflicts. Finally, it is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of Western Balkan citizens want to be part of the West. The European Union and United States can harness those aspirations with a credible Euro-Atlantic perspective for the countries of the region, keeping alive the postwar dream of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Plague, 30-yrs War ... and Post-Modernism: Meet the Hard Math of Demographics

Depopulation and demographic collapse are not unknown concepts, disease and war have brought both on a regular basis to human civilization. Unless you are Mayan, Khmer, or other star-crossed civilizations, complete collapse is rare. What we are seeing now from Japan to China to Europe - especially former Communist Europe - is different. This is by peaceful choice.

People have simply decided not to have children.

Over at Bloomberg, Leonid Ragozin has a great write-up about what happened to the Baltic Republics since the fall of the Soviet Union. As is my wont, let's start with a graph.

This graph is almost standard throughout the former Soviet Union. The non-Muslim parts especially responded to economic and social chaos by doing two things; 1) Stop having families, 2) Emigration.
Several factors are contributing to the depopulation of Eastern Europe, and Latvia has all of them: low income, compared with more developed EU nations; insufficient growth; and strong anti-immigrant sentiment. The average annual take-home pay among all EU nations was 24,183 euros ($29,834) in 2015, according to Eurostat, while in Latvia it was only 6,814 euros ($8,406).

The young and educated are disappearing in the greatest numbers, shrinking the amount of working adults who can fund benefits for pensioners. Latvian demographer Mihails Hazans said that, as of 2014, one in three ethnic Latvians aged 25 to 34—and a quarter of all Latvians with higher education—lived abroad. In Moldova, that figure is more than 20 percent. In Ukraine—which other Eastern European nations look to for migrant labor—the state employment service said 11 percent of the population lives abroad.
With fewer young Latvians staying and getting married, buying houses or starting families, the school system is slowly shrinking. The population is skewing older. Classrooms give way to day rooms.

But Lakse stayed. He went on to college and is now pursuing a legal degree at the University of Daugavpils, Latvia’s second-largest city, which has a population of 86,000. Even for those who stay, though, the pull of the west remains. When students in his class were asked recently whether they were going to stay in Latvia after graduation, almost half said no.
Economics can take time, and in an international environment where educated and motivated people can easily move about, emigration will be an issue. The key is to build a nation your people don't want to leave.

If simple numbers are the issue, as this is Bloomberg and Leonid is Leonid, there is a paper thin discussion of the joys of an immigration fix.
Nine out of 10 countries with the lowest acceptance rate of immigrants are former members of the Eastern bloc. Of these, the three Baltic nations had been previously forced to accept Russian-speaking migrants. In Latvia, the issue is so controversial that in 2015, when the EU insisted it accept just a few hundred Syrian refugees, nationalists initially threatened to withdraw from the government. That same year, Latvia came in second to last in the Migrant Integration Policy Index, which ranks 38 democracies according to the quality of immigration policies. Only Turkey did worse. Latvia was fourth from the bottom in Gallup’s 2017 Migrant Acceptance Score list, which ranks countries in order of their populations’ attitudes to immigrants.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in Latvia is driven, in part, by the National Alliance party, one of three in Latvia’s governing coalition. Speaking in Parliament earlier this year, party official Janis Dombrava quoted polling agency Eurobarometer as showing that 86 percent of Latvians believe immigrants make no contribution to the state.

“Latvia must either completely abandon or minimize the number of migrants who come from third-world countries,” Dombrava said. In October, Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis rejected an EU plan to accommodate an additional 50,000 refugees from the Middle East and Africa. He also defended Poland, which refused to meet the EU-imposed minimum number of refugees it was obliged to accept.

Hazans, the Latvian demographer, has been researching the nation’s slow-motion implosion. Low wages, poor career prospects and poorer working conditions, he said, are the top reasons. He also warned of a parallel political cycle to match the economic one: Since the young leave and the old stay, the electorate gets more conservative, he said, further exacerbating anti-immigrant leanings.
Where can anyone find an example where mass immigration from the Middle East or Africa has been a net-positive to civil society in Europe? Where have any of these large masses produced a boom of per-capita income? What net positive attribute to a nation in 2040 will a critical mass of unemployable, unassimilable, ethnically, religiously, and linguistically people in an already existing ethno-state (Latvians are a distinct ethnic group as are Estonians, Finns, etc) have? 

Go ahead, I'll wait.

This isn't going to happen.

Let pause a moment and wonder if there might be a positive here. By chance, could the Baltic republics be bumping in to avoiding a rising future problem? Again, over to Bloomberg;
Meanwhile, some in the tech industry believe that as machine learning and other technologies continue to replace human labor, basic income will be the only way to guarantee large portions of the human race a decent standard of living.
No one argues this point; the future economic system in the developed world will need fewer people, not more. Machines will take many jobs that require low skills. There will be a higher standard of living on average, but jobs will be scarce. It will be a challenge to find jobs for the educated, the low-skilled? Nope.

Waves of immigrants from Muslim nations and Sub-Saharan Africa are not of skilled and educated people. In the modern economies of Europe, there is no place for them to prosper.

As populations shrink, they will eventually find their level as moods and norms change, as they do. Will they be 30% lower? 50% lower? Who knows, but it will level in the next few decades. What we do know is that there won't be a need more people to take what few low skill jobs there will be.

The best thing for these nations to do - if they wish to remain in peace this century - is to build a high-tech, highly educated people among those kids they do have.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Reform, Readiness and the Navy's Path Ahead, with Dr. James Holmes on Midrats

How is our Navy making progress in adjusting how we man, train, and operate our forces following the series of lessons identified in the wake of 2017's series of mishaps that left ships damaged, reputations destroyed, and 17 Sailors dead?

Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern for the full hour to discuss where we are and the way forward will be returning guest Dr. James Holmes. We will use his recent comments from Asia Times and The National Interest as starting points for a broad ranging conversation.

Dr. Holmes is a professor of strategy and former visiting professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, where he is the inaugural holder of the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer and combat veteran of the first Gulf War, he served as a weapons and engineering officer in the battleship Wisconsin, engineering and firefighting instructor at the Surface Warfare Officers School Command, and military professor of strategy at the Naval War College. He was the last gunnery officer to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger.

The book he co-authored with Toshi Yoshihara, Red Star over the Pacific, is out in its second edition this fall.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

UPDATE A few recommendations from our guest:
- George Orwell's The Politics of the English Language.
- Edward N. Luttwak's The Political Uses of Sea Power.
This fall, significantly updated 2nd Edition of Red Star Over the Pacific.
You can read two decades of Jim's work at TheNavalDiplomat.

During the course of the show I mentioned Sen. Sasse's discussion with Jonah Goldberg on DoD reform. Go to the 16-min mark here.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fullbore Friday

When does your service end? When is it time to call war a young man's responsibility and ride out the storm with hope from a distance?

Well, ask yourself, had this man done his duty?
Samuel Whittemore was born in England on July 27th, 1695, and came to North America as a Captain in His Majesty's Dragoons, fighting the French in 1745. He was involved in the capture of the French stronghold, Fort Louisburg, and there captured a decorative french officer's sword, which he cherished for the rest of his life. About its capture, all Sam would say is that its previous owner had "died suddenly".

After the war he stayed in the colonies, purchasing a farm in Menotomy (now Arlington, Massachusetts). He married Elizabeth Spring, and after her death remarried to Mrs. Esther Prentice. By his two wives he had three sons and five daughters. His house, on Massachusetts Avenue, in Arlington, still exists.

In 1758, war again broke out between England and France. And again, Fort Louisburg had to be taken. At 64 years of age, Sam volunteered and joined a Colonial Regiment which reduced the fort to rubble. He then went on and joined General James Wolf in the successful assault on Quebec.

The 1763 Indian Wars in the west next attracted Sam's attention. Leaving his wife, children and grandchildren to attend the farm, he rode off to join the colonial force launched against the Ottawa chief, Pontiac. He returned home some months later with a brace of dueling pistols as a souvenir, and here again, all Sam would say is that the previous owner "died suddenly."
At a time when he was already well past his expected life span at 80, there was a new threat to his adopted home.

What is a man to do?
... (on the) night of April 19th, 1775) he watched as Colonel Smith led his column of 700 soldiers through Menotomy. He was probably concerned, but the British had come out of Boston before and there had not been any serious trouble. Later that morning he heard rumors that there had been fighting at Lexington and Concord. But, when General Percy marched through the town with an additional 1,400 soldiers, Sam's military experience told him there was serious trouble ...

Word had come to Menotomy that the combined, heavily engaged, columns of Smith and Percy were retreating toward the town, and were burning homes along the way, so the aged warrior decided to take action in spite of his being eighty years old! He strapped on his captured french sword, stuck his brace of dueling pistols in his belt, put on his powder horn and shot bag, took his musket from its place on his fireplace mantle ...

Sam selected a position that gave him a excellent view of the road from Lexington, and sat down to wait. His fellow minuteman from Menotomy pleaded for him to find a safer position, but he choose to ignore them.
This part of the story is why you should always stand up to those who snort at the part-time soldier.
His fellow minuteman started firing at the oncoming British Grenadiers of the 47th Regiment of Foot, falling back to reload, then firing again. Sam waited. Finally, when the column was directly in front of him, he stood and fired his musket. A grenadier fell dead. He drew his two pistols, firing both at almost point blank range. Another grenadier fell dead, a third fell mortally wounded. The British soldiers were on top of him, he had not the time to reload his musket or pistols, so drawing his sword, he . started flailing away at the bayonet wielding soldiers. A soldier leveled his Brown Bess musket, at point blank range and fired. The .69 calibre ball struck Sam in the cheek, tearing away part of his face and throwing him to the ground. Sam valiantly tried to rise, fending off bayonet thrusts with his sword, but he was overpowered. Struck in the head with a musket butt, he went down again, then was bayoneted thirteen times and left for dead.
Enough to fell any man ... but this was no simple man. In a time when medical care was still little more than leaches and prayer;
Using a door as a makeshift stretcher, Sam was carried to Cooper Tavern, which was being used as a emergency hospital. Doctor Nathaniel Tufts of Medford attended to Sam. He cut off his bloody clothes, and exposed the gaping bayonet wounds. Sam's face was horribly injured. Doctor Tufts knew the injuries were fatal, stating it wouldn't do any good to even dress the wounds. Sam's family and friends insisted and Dr. Tufts did the best he could. He tried to make the old man as comfortable as possible. After his wounds were attended to Sam was carried to his home, to die surrounded by his family. To everyone's utter amazement Captain Sam Whittemore lived! He recovered and remained active for the next eighteen years. He was terribly scarred, but always was proud of what he had done for his adopted country. He is quoted as having stated that he would take the same chances again.

You can question the old soldier's tactical judgment, making the stand in the manner he did, but you can never question his bravery. He also proved you are never too old! Sam died on February 3rd, 1793, age 98 and is buried in the town's cemetery.
This is just one story of thousands about what simple men, women, and children did to secure your liberty.

Have you earned it? Are you prepared to answer the call when it comes for you?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

REFORGER Now and Forever

This is a bit from the, "What ... you're only thinking about this NOW!" category - but better late than

Some of this makes me think that a lot of the problem is the former Warsaw Pact nations' building boom of the last couple of decades, that and Western European nations forgetting their own history.

That being said, this is why you always need someone from the 4-shop in every thing you do;
The European Union wants to quicken the pace of moving military equipment across countries on the continent to prepare for future crises, according to a planning document unveiled Wednesday.

The project is billed as a key prerequisite for an ambitious project to build European defense capabilities outside of NATO, though still in support of alliance objectives. The “Action Plan on Military Mobility” comes after years of deteriorating relations with Russia, though no mention is made of the eastern neighbor in the March 28 communication to the European Parliament and the European Council.

COLOGNE, Germany — The European Union wants to quicken the pace of moving military equipment across countries on the continent to prepare for future crises, according to a planning document unveiled Wednesday.

The project is billed as a key prerequisite for an ambitious project to build European defense capabilities outside of NATO, though still in support of alliance objectives. The “Action Plan on Military Mobility” comes after years of deteriorating relations with Russia, though no mention is made of the eastern neighbor in the March 28 communication to the European Parliament and the European Council.

While EU member states have fused many of the policies governing citizens’ daily lives, there are still bureaucratic hurdles toward the free flow of military equipment from Portugal to the Baltics and anywhere in between.

A pilot exercise initiated by Estonia last year demonstrated the viability of beginning larger-scale planning for a Europe-wide transportation network capable of handling heavy equipment like tanks, the document states. That drill examined the ability for countries along a North Sea-Baltic corridor to pass equipment from one end to the other.

The exercise uncovered height and weight restrictions on some bridges and put a spotlight on the lack of heavy-loading equipment used for oversized military materiel traveling by rail.

The new planning directive builds heavily on the idea of advancing dual-use scenarios, or tweaking transportation infrastructure meant for civilian purposes to also work for shipping military gear. By next year, European Commission officials will study what specific logistics projects are needed to enable greater mobility of military goods.
It must be a good idea, it has RT all a flustered.

We used to conduct a huge logistics exercise on a regular basis during the Cold War, REFORGER. It tested both ends of the resupply chain and the ability to get forces inland. We need to restart this program. Do it every 3-5 yrs. It will help us find problems in peace we can't afford to deal with at war.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Why Vanuatu?

Nice SLOC you have there Down Under.

I'm pondering China's reach in to the South Pacific over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and read up on it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) Gets Her Revenge

Though she didn't fire a shot in anger in the latest Syrian strikes, everyone on the DONALD COOK should have a little zip in their step, they did something just as important - and satisfying.

Since she showed up in Rota, Spain in 2014 as one of our forward deployed BMD destroyers, she's has made a good show of the flag through the Med, Baltic, and Black Sea. The Russians took a liking to her as some kind of punching bag to make a point for INFO OPS or PSYOPS reasons.

First in April of 2014,
A Russian fighter aircraft made repeated low-altitude, close-range passes near a U.S. ship in the Black Sea over the weekend, the Pentagon said on Monday, condemning the action at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine.

“This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with their national protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries,” said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Warren said a Russian Su-24 aircraft, or Fencer, made 12 passes at low altitude near the USS Donald Cook, a destroyer that has been in the Black Sea since April 10. It appeared to be unarmed, he told reporters.

The incident lasted 90 minutes and took place on Saturday evening while the U.S. ship was conducting a patrol in international waters in the western Black Sea, Warren said. The ship is now in a Romanian port.
...and then again in 2016 another little air show in the Baltic;

The US military released videos and photos showing Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft flying across the bow of the destroyer in the latest of many recent cases the White House said were unsafe and unprofessional.

"There have been repeated incidents over the past year where the Russian military, including Russian military aircraft, have come close enough ... to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns," spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"This incident ... is entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international water and international airspace."
Ha, ha Ivan, you insecure bully. You'll get yours.

Patience. All it took was patience.

Somewhere there is a planner out there we all owe a beer to that gave the DONALD COOK her revenge;
In April of last year, two US Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean steamed into the region, let off 59 cruise missiles in response to gas attacks by the Syrian government, and left unpunished and unpursued.

But this time, with the US considering its response to another attack against civilians blamed on the Syrian government, Russian officials threatened to shoot down US missiles, and potentially the ships that launched them, if they attacked Syria. A retired Russian admiral spoke candidly about sinking the USS Donald Cook, the only destroyer in the region.

When the strike happened early Saturday morning local time, the Cook didn't fire a shot, and a source told Bloomberg News it was a trick.

Instead, a US submarine, the USS John Warner, fired missiles while submerged in the eastern Mediterranean, presenting a much more difficult target than a destroyer on the surface. Elsewhere, a French frigate let off three missiles.

But the bulk of the firing came from somewhere else entirely: the Red Sea.
I don't know what, "Give DONALD COOK a call, they have your jock." is in Russian ... but Russia, the DONALD COOK has your jock - and the last laugh.

As a side-note, you know how the submarine bubbas will run up a Jolly Roger when they do a Special Operations mission or somesort? Well, this epic troll/PSYOPS deserves something new. The crew of the DONALD COOK needs to get a big troll flag to run up her mast for when she comes back to port.

Hat tip SJS, EM Simpson, & Herb.