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04 Nov 22. Western Balkans: Landmark agreements with the EU will help mitigate regional tensions. On 3 November, leaders of six Western Balkan countries, including Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania, have signed three agreements with European Union leaders in an important step towards forging closer, as the EU tries to counter Russian influence in the region. Under the new agreements, all six countries will allow the free movement of their citizens across the region, and mutually recognise all professional qualifications issued in these countries. These agreements are particularly notable as tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have increased over recent months. The agreement comes shortly after the EU’s announcement of a EUR 500 million investment in Western Balkan energy infrastructures. EU leaders will meet Western Balkan officials again at next month’s summit in Albania. These new developments not only mark improving relations between the EU and the Western Balkan region but also will also help alleviate regional tensions between the ethnically and religiously divided Balkan countries. (Source: Sibylline)
04 Nov 22. United Kingdom: Socio-economic outcome will likely worsen following significant interest rates hike. On 3 November, the Bank of England (BoE) increased interest rates by 0.75 percentage points to 3 percent, bringing the benchmark rates to the highest level since 2008; it has also forecast a prolonged recession for the UK economy. The 0.75 percentage point hike – the highest in 30 years – came as the country’s inflation rate rose to a 40-year high of 10.1 percent in September. However, the BoE has strongly signalled that, while further increases might be required to bring inflation back to the 2 percent target, it believes borrowing costs will not rise as steeply as markets expect in the future. Even if rates stay on hold at 3 percent, the BoE forecasts a recession for five consecutive quarters. The gloomy economic outlook is highly likely to worsen socio-economic conditions and drive inequality in the short to medium term. (Source: Sibylline)
02 Nov 22. Wallace calls hefty UK defense budget hikes ‘aspirational.’
Britain’s defense secretary appeared before the parliamentary Defence Committee on Wednesday, with lawmakers eager to quiz him about the impact of inflation, exchange rates and possible spending cuts.
Ben Wallace told lawmakers that inflation and a weak pound versus the U.S. dollar were key issues affecting spending.
“In the here and now, next two years up to 2025, I need money to protect me from inflation and forex,” he said, referring to the foreign exchange market. ”They are the two main challenges to the defense budget I have between now and the next spending review.”
Wallace said the inflationary pressures alone on the budget could total about £8bn (US$9bn) over two years.
“As a very capital-dependent department, we are much more vulnerable to inflationary costs than other departments on our programs and equipment,” Wallace said.
British inflation is currently at 10.1% and climbing, while the pound has fallen from $1.34 to $1.14.
Wallace was in front of the committee to talk about U.S., U.K. and NATO relations. But the lawmakers, led by the panel’s chairman, Tobias Ellwood, grabbed the opportunity to question the defense secretary about more pressing domestic issues related to money and key equipment programs.
Wallace is scheduled to meet Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Thursday to begin thrashing out how much money the department will get when the government rolls out its new budget Nov. 17. Defense faces the requirement to plug a £40+bn black hole in its finances; mainly by way of raised taxes and departmental spending cuts.
Wallace is scheduled to meet Jeremy Hunt on Thursday to begin thrashing out how much money the Defence Ministry will get when the government rolls out its new budget Nov. 17, with a requirement to plug a £40 bn or more black hole in its public finances — mainly via raised taxes and departmental spending cuts.
Gone are the days of the recent past where now ex-Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were promising Wallace a rise in defense spending by around 2028 to 3% of gross domestic product, up from a whisker over 2% now.
Wallace told lawmakers on the committee that the 3% figure is now “aspirational.”
That surprised nobody. Committee member Mark Francois, a former defense minister, said Wallace’s response was disappointing.
“Those of us who have been in politics for a while know what that [aspirational] means. So at least spend 2.5% of GDP by 2026,” Francois asked.
Wallace didn’t reply directly, saying he “meets with the chancellor tomorrow and over the next few weeks until the budget, and I will be fighting for as much money as I can get. … We are keen to make sure the chancellor believes it should be raised up the profile and we can see where we are in the next few weeks,” he said.
It wasn’t just defense spending the committee quizzed Wallace about. Key equipment programs also were on the agenda.
The defense secretary reported that the MoD had signed a deal to start replenishing missile stocks run down by the supply of weapons to the Ukraine.
Five hundred NLAW anti-tank weapons are scheduled for delivery from missile maker Thales U.K. next year, and Wallace said a further deal for thousands of weapons for Britain and other customers will be signed next year.
There was some positive news on progress with the troubled £5.5bn Ajax armored reconnaissance vehicle program for the British Army, which has been stalled for years by serious vibration and noise problems.
Wallace said the vehicle, being built by General Dynamics UK, had now completed its user validation trials.
“They will now analyze the data and commence into reliability and growth trials, hopefully in December or January,” he said.
Wallace’s appearance in front of the Defence Committee wasn’t his only parliamentary duty Nov 2.
He also issued a statement to Parliament detailing delays to the first Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigate being built by BAE Systems Govan yard in Scotland. The statement said initial operating capability will be delayed 12 months, to October 2028. Wallace blamed the coronavirus pandemic as well as design and equipment supply delays for the date slip. The first three of eight planned Type 26s are in various stages of construction. (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
02 Nov 22. Serbia says drones enter its airspace from Kosovo amid rise in tensions. Several drones have entered Serbian airspace from Kosovo over the past three days, Serbia’s defence minister said on Wednesday amid heightened tensions between Belgrade and its ex-province, which won independence after a guerrilla uprising.
Kosovo’s government denied the accusation, saying any such drones were not coming from its territory.
Tensions have resurged between Kosovo and Serbia over Pristina’s efforts to make its Serb minority switch their old car licence plates, which date to the 1990s when Kosovo was a part of Serbia, to Kosovo state plates.
“I cannot tell you who those drones belong to, but I can say that they all flew from Kosovo territory,” Serbian Defence Minister Milos Vucevic told RTS TV. He gave no details about the reported drones.
He said President Aleksandar Vucic, who also serves as supreme commander of Serbia’s armed forces, had issued an order to “eliminate” any drones entering Serbian airspace and had put Serbian forces on “higher alert”.
On Wednesday afternoon one drone was shot down in the city of Raska, 250 kilometres southwest from Belgrade, the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
A “commercial drone” was coming from the direction of Kopaonik mountain, which is on the border with Kosovo, and was shot near army barracks in Raska, the ministry said. The ministry did not give any further information.
Kosovo Defence Minister Armend Mehaj denied that drones were flying into Serbia from Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian majority rose up against repressive Belgrade rule in 1998-99, leading to independence in 2008.
“Such discourse is only a pretext for the increase in the number of Serbian troops around the border with the Republic of Kosovo, as a means of spreading a state of panic among the citizens of both states,” Mehaj said.
Kosovo has made several attempts this year to enforce a rule requiring minority Serbs to accept Kosovo state registration of their vehicles, but this has at times met violent resistance in Kosovo’s north, a hotbed of Serb nationalism.
Last week under U.S. and European Union pressure, Kosovo extended the transitional time for license plates to be changed, but said it would start issuing fines after Nov. 21 and seizing vehicles after April 21, 2023, if they were not re-registered.
Almost 15 years after Kosovo’s move to independence, some 50,000 ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo continue to consider their area to be part of Serbia and reject Kosovo state authority. (Source: Reuters)
01 Nov 22. UK defence minister non-committal on whether PM Sunak will keep spending pledge.
- UK PM Sunak hasn’t committed to 3% target
- Defence minister looks to protect budget from inflation
- Wallace wants spending increase but lives in “real world”
Britain’s defence minister Ben Wallace said people would have to wait until a fiscal event on Nov. 17 to find out if a commitment to increase defence spending over the course of the decade would be maintained by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Sunak and finance minister Jeremy Hunt are examining spending cuts and tax rises ahead of the Autumn Statement later this month, raising the prospect of a clash with the defence ministry.
Sunak’s predecessors Boris Johnson, who Wallace supported, and Liz Truss had committed to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030, but Sunak has not said if he will keep it.
Asked how confident he was that Sunak and Hunt would maintain the target, Wallace told a parliamentary committee: “how fixed this new prime minister and the chancellor is going to be on 3%, we’ll find out at the budget.”
Wallace said that he was confident that defence spending was “moving up the funding priority ladder,” but that his department’s budget was particularly vulnerable to inflation given its large capital expenditure.
He said that he would seek to ensure that his department’s budget was protected in real terms and that spending levels would be at least insulated from the impact of fluctuating exchange rates and inflation over the next two years.
“I’m confident that the argument has been made the defence needs to come back up the priority of investment. The next argument is how much by,” he said.
“Obviously as Defence Secretary I would like: ‘by significant amounts’, but I also live in the real world and the next two years there is a spending challenge we have to meet.”(Source: Reuters)
01 Nov 22. UK Parliament Releases Report on Developments in UK Strategic Export Controls. The House of Commons Committees of Arms Export Control of the U.K. Parliament has released a report, Developments in UK Strategic Export Controls: First Joint Report of Sessions 2022-23. The report asserts that the Committees “have seen a continued reluctance from Government in engaging with Parliament, stakeholders, and the public on these changes. The new UK Strategic Export Licensing Criteria were implemented without consultation or warning and came into immediate effect; there was no consultation on the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) transformation programme; and disappointingly neither the Foreign Secretary nor the International Trade Secretary were available to provide oral evidence to this inquiry.” The report also finds that the U.K. government’s Export Control Joint Unit “appears inadequately resourced,” which the report maintains has resulted in delays in processing licence application that have resulted in firms losing orders and suffering reputational damage. (Source: glstrade.com)
01 Nov 22. Finland urges Turkey, Hungary to swiftly approve Swedish, Finnish NATO bids. Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Tuesday urged Hungary and Turkey to swiftly approve the Swedish and Finnish applications for membership of the NATO defence alliance.
Hungary and Turkey are the only two remaining NATO members to not yet have ratified the applications.
“All eyes are now on Hungary and Turkey. We are waiting for these countries to ratify our applications. I think it would be important that this would happen preferably sooner than later,” Marin told a joint news conference with other Nordic leaders.
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Finland and Sweden last week reiterated they would join NATO at the same time, presenting a united front to Turkey.
The Nordic neighbours asked to join the NATO alliance in May in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but ran into objections from Turkey which has accused the two of harbouring groups it deems terrorists.
30 Oct 22. Review of UK government counter-terror strategy to tackle threats. Refresh ensures UK system is able to continually adapt to new, emerging and persistent security threats
The government will carry out a wholesale refresh of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, to protect its citizens from new, emerging and persistent threats.
In the UK and overseas, there has been a shift towards self-initiated terrorists operating independently from organised groups with increasingly personal ideologies, warped views used to justify violence.
The tactics and methodologies used by terrorists are diversifying and becoming increasingly fragmented.
To meet those threats, the counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) will be updated to reflect these new challenges. This will involve seeking a diverse range of views and engaging security experts from across the UK and overseas, so that CONTEST continues to robustly protect the British public from terrorist threats.
Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, said:
Terrorists seek to divide us and sow hatred. We will not let them. Our commitment to the values we cherish is too strong.
But as the nature of terrorism continues to evolve and endure, so must we.
We will ensure that our response to the terror threat continues to be world-leading and ensure we have a strategy that allows people to go about their lives freely and with confidence.
The update will take into account a series of important reviews, including the second volume of the Manchester Arena Inquiry, set to be published next week.
In addition, the findings from the Independent Review of Prevent, led by William Shawcross, will strengthen the government’s ability to stop individuals being drawn into terrorism in the first place.
The government will do everything possible to strengthen the UK’s protection against terrorist attacks.
This includes a renewed commitment to introduce the Protect Duty, which will enhance the safety of public venues while avoiding placing additional burden on small businesses.
The UK counter-terror system already encompasses the efforts of more than 20 government departments and agencies.
Since 2017 alone, more than 200 recommendations have been implemented in response to terrorist attacks, including the creation of the world’s first multi-organisational Counter Terrorism Operations Centre, in London in June 2021.
Head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Matt Jukes said:
Since its launch in 2003, CONTEST has proved to be an enduring and effective strategic framework for the UK’s counter terrorism response, but it shouldn’t stand still.
Today’s threat is dominated by increasingly fragmented ideologies, self-initiated terrorism, and the reach of hateful online ideologies into the lives of the young people.
It is vital that any future strategy reflects these learnings and also looks forward to the collaborations we will need in the future to keep people safe.
Counter Terrorism Policing, uniquely, has made an evolving contribution to all four pillars of the CONTEST strategy and will continue to be at the heart of our preparedness for the terrible moments when attacks happen.
The government expects to publish an updated and enhanced version of CONTEST next year. In the meantime, it will continue to deliver a counter-terror strategy to keep the public safe. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
23 Oct 22. Romania has announced the arrival of the initial French Battle Group Forward Presence (BGFP) Operation AIGLE armoured vehicle convoy.
The first French military convoy consisting in armoured vehicles in order to complete the technical means of BGFP deployed in Cincu will enter on Sunday, 23 of October, approx. 21.00 hours, in Romania through Nădlac crossing point, Arad county. A second convoy consisting in one Leclerc squadron will enter in Romania during November.
French Army engagements on the flanks of Europe [© French MoD ]
Battle Group Forward Presence – BGFP – in Romania was established, starting from May, by transforming the allied multinational elements within the NATO Response Force, deployed in our country. Upon France’s proposal to take over the role of framework nation, the French battalion deployed in Romania, considered the spearhead of NATO’s Very High Reaction Force (VJTF), forms the BGFP on the national territory, integrating, on a rotational basis, Belgium and Netherlands troops.
BGFP contributes to increasing the military cooperation of Romania with France and, implicitly, to strengthening the security of the Euro-Atlantic space on the Eastern Flank. The cooperation with the strategic partners and the existence of relevant combat structures on the national territory contributes to increasing the reaction capacity in the context of the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the Black Sea region.
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