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16 Feb 23. Austin Assures Baltic States of U.S. Commitment.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III re-emphasized that the United States is totally dedicated to the defense of the Baltic republics.
“I want to make one thing very clear to the Estonian people today. United States remains steadfastly committed to the freedom and sovereignty of our Baltic allies,” Austin said. “And we stand united with you to deter and defend against any threat to our shared security.”
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania are neighbors of Ukraine where war is raging. They’re NATO members and the United States has bulked up troop presence in the region in response to President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and brutal war to exterminate Ukraine. The Eastern European nations are among the leaders in supporting Ukraine and providing refuge for the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the Russian invasion.
Austin stopped in the Estonian capital of Tallinn after attending the NATO defense ministers’ meeting and chairing the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels. He spoke during a news conference with Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur.
“Next week, we’ll mark a year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of its peaceful neighbor, Ukraine,” Austin said. “And we mourn the lives lost so needlessly in Putin’s cruel and unprovoked war of choice. As the Ukrainian people fight so bravely to defend their sovereignty, they remind us that we can never take freedom for granted.”
Estonia understands this to its core, having been occupied by the Soviet Union from 1944 to the dissolution of the autocracy in 1991, Austin said.
Estonia has been a leader in the effort to turn back Russia and defend the rules-based international order that calls for peaceful settlement of differences and guarantees sovereignty.
“Our security continues to be guaranteed by our membership in NATO, the most powerful alliance in history,” Pevkur said at the news conference. “Last year at the NATO Madrid Summit, allies made historic decisions to make the alliance even stronger. Allies committed to establishing a credible forward-defense posture on NATO’s eastern flank in order to ensure that every inch of allied territory is defended without delay.”
At the summit, President Joe Biden announced the decision to enhance the U.S. rotational presence in the Baltic states. “Call that ‘promise delivered’,” Pevkur said. “A U.S. platoon and an infantry company are now training side by side with the Estonian Defense Forces increasing interoperability and strengthening the security of Estonia and NATO.
Russia has launched an offensive in Ukraine with thousands of reserve soldiers that have poured into the conflict and increased rocket attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine. Putin shows no sign of giving up his “imperial ambitions,” Pevkur said. He expects more progress in combatting the Russian threat at the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, this summer.
“You’ve shown tremendous leadership in supporting Ukraine today,” Austin said. “As a share of your economic size, Estonia has provided more military aid to Ukraine than any other country in the world. You’ve made hard decisions to get Ukrainians the assistance that they need to defend themselves. So, thank you for your leadership. It is truly a shining example to all countries.”
NATO is strengthening its deterrence and defense in the eastern part of the alliance, and the United States is among those allies enhancing its presence. “We’ll maintain a persistent rotational presence in the Baltics,” Austin said. “So, I’m confident that our two proud democracies will work together to meet any challenge, and together will continue to strengthen trans-Atlantic security and to defend the rules-based international order that keeps us all safe.”
Austin said Putin’s war strengthened the resolve of NATO members.
“Putin thought that he could divide NATO, but his aggression achieved just the opposite: The NATO alliance is more united and stronger than I’ve ever seen it,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
15 Feb 23. Serbia: Dialogue on normalising ties with Kosovo will drive risk of violent civil unrest. On 15 February, Serbian police blocked approximately 1,000 ultra-nationalist and pro-Russian protesters who attempted to storm the building of the presidency in Belgrade. The protest was held on Statehood Day in opposition to the government’s recent efforts to normalise relations with Kosovo. It was organised by the far-right group, People’s Patrol, which is led by Damjan Knezevic, a Serb nationalist with connections to the Wagner Group. Two members of the group were detained in possession of a weapon and ammunition hours before the demonstration. Knezevic also warned that protesters would stage riots if the government were to accept a French-German proposal on normalising ties with Pristina. Should the government even partially accept the proposal, it will likely trigger violent demonstrations in Belgrade. However, the government is unlikely to accept the proposal in its current form, and it is far more likely the political impasse between Serbia and Kosovo will persist. (Source: Sibylline)
15 Feb 23. UK defence secretary Ben Wallace has said he is braced for an “uphill battle” with the Treasury over increasing military spending, as he warned that global threats had made the world “much more dangerous and unstable”. The UK spends about 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product on defence, but Wallace is one of a number of Conservative MPs to warn that increased threats from Russia and China, and domestic inflationary pressures, justify additional expenditure. “I’ve been in this game long enough. I have been a minister for God knows how many years, but it’s always an uphill battle with the Treasury, no matter what department you’re in,” he told Sky News on Wednesday. “It’s the right thing that the secretary of state will argue for an increase to meet their priorities. And of course, between now and the Budget, I’ve got lots of time and lots of meetings with the chancellor to make sure that we try and come to a deal on it.” In his Autumn Statement in November, Jeremy Hunt said that both he and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recognised the “need” to boost defence spending. But the chancellor added that the government would update the integrated review into the UK’s foreign policy strategy before making any budgetary decision. The Sunday Times reported last week that Wallace was seeking an increase of roughly £10bn for the Ministry of Defence. Wallace on Wednesday rejected suggestions that he would resign if he failed to secure extra funding, insisting: “This is not about resigning or anything else: it’s about delivering defence to meet the threat.” He added that the MoD was particularly vulnerable to “inflation pressures”, owing to the need to spend on hardware and infrastructure. The Office for National Statistics on Wednesday said consumer price inflation stood at 10.1 per cent in January, down from 10.5 per cent the previous month and a high of 11.1 per cent in October last year. “I am not going to conduct the negotiations in public, but obviously we’re going to try and make our way through this so that between now and the next spending review, which is in two years’ time, we can insulate defence from many of those pressures.” Speaking as Nato defence ministers began a second day of talks in Brussels on military support for Ukraine, Wallace said the war had exposed “vulnerabilities” in many European countries’ defence capabilities. “The world itself is much more dangerous and unstable,” Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, citing China and the growth of al-Qaeda and other radical groups in Africa. He added that it had been “well known for decades” that, at times of cost cutting, “the places that got unfunded were the unsexy parts of defence”. (Source: FT.com)
15 Feb 23. More Defence Spending or better Defence Spending?
Given the current geopolitical landscape it is an understandable response to demand that the U.K. government should increase the defence budget. This is consistent with the discourse where each question over the decline in U.K. public services is answered with the amount of money being spent, as if there is a direct correlation between the amount spent and the way is spent and what it is spent on.
The challenge for U.K. defence is to acknowledge two possible errors. Firstly that the acquisition of defence products, systems and service in U.K. is a triumph of process over purpose and secondly that the pursuit of massive capital projects such as aircraft carriers, F35s and, yes, the Continuous At Sea Deterrent has led to a dangerous imbalance in the UK’s defence capability. So the answer to the question posed is yes there needs to be more money spent as the capital projects will demand funds for many years to come so switching to armoured vehicles and ammunition is not feasible and yes the available budget needs to be spent in a manner that is focused on outcomes rather than process. Value for money for the tax payer is not an outcome, it is qualitative measure that is subject to opinion and bias. Tanks and ammunition and the trained people to use them are the purpose.
Admission of the errors and the decisions and funds necessary to correct them are, to say the least difficult from many perspectives. The politics will be ruthless and therefore avoidance is apparently perceived to be better than action. However events are unlikely to allow permanent avoidance. (Source: Paul Hough/Alterius Rei)
14 Feb 23. Latvia to boost defense spending with naval missile, HIMARS deals. Latvian Defence Minister Ināra Mūrniece has announced the country’s military expenditure could reach the level of 3% of its gross domestic product earlier than planned, as she aims to sign contracts for the purchase of Naval Strike Missile anti-ship systems and six M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, this spring.
Mūrniece said at a meeting of the parliament’s Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee her ministry has three programs underway that need to be accelerated to bolster Latvia’s defense capacities. These include coastal defense against enemy ships, artillery systems, and medium-range air defense systems, she said, as quoted by local news agency LETA.
“It is expected that we will reach [defense spending of] 3 percent of the GDP by 2027, but with these faster-moving projects, I think that we will reach 3 percent of the GDP before 2027,” Mūrniece said.
The three Baltic states have accelerated their missile and artillery acquisition programs in response to the lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Should Latvia place an order for Lockheed Martin’s HIMARS weapons, it could become the third Baltic nation to operate the long-range, mobile rocket launchers in the future. Last December, Estonia signed a deal with the United States to purchase six of the weapons, and the same month Lithuania and the U.S. government inked a contract for as many as eight.
The NSM is a sea-skimming, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile developed by U.S. Raytheon and Norway’s Kongsberg.
For 2023, Riga plans to allocate close to €987 million, roughly $1 billion, to its defense budget, or about 2.25% of the Latvian GDP.
At the same time, Latvia is advancing its project to reinstate mandatory military service after ending conscription in 2007, with a relevant bill awaiting a vote by the parliament. This year, the Latvian National Armed Forces are to draft the first group of volunteers, and in 2027, all male citizens aged 18 to 27 will be required to chose one of the available forms of military service.
“A citizen of Latvia will be required to serve one year, which also includes one month of leave. New recruits will undergo three-month basic training and [a] three-month specialty course, while [the] remaining five months will be devoted to integration into units and collective training,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
The country’s government aims “to increase the share of combat-ready population of Latvia … to 50,000″ in 2027. Of these, 14,000 troops are to operate in active service units, 16,000 are to serve in the National Guard, and 20,000 in the reserve force, according to the statement.
(Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
14 Feb 23. France ‘concerned’ about state of Britain’s Armed Forces. Sources claim Nato is worried about UK capability amid wrangles over funding and depleted reserves from donations to Ukraine. French officials have raised concerns over the state of the British Armed Forces.
The Telegraph understands that Paris officials claimed that budget cuts to the UK’s military were causing alarm among Nato members, as defence ministers from the pact gathered in Brussels.
It comes amid a row over defence spending in the upcoming budget, with Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said to have asked the Chancellor for £10 billion for his department.
Calls for more money have been bolstered by the war in Ukraine, and by growing warnings about the threat from China in the wake of suspected spy balloons being shot down over the US.
On Tuesday a leading French MP told the Telegraph that there were concerns in his country that Britain had given weapons to Ukraine from its own supplies, leaving its forces depleted.
Emmanuel Macron announced last month that he would boost military spending by more than a third by 2030.
British government sources insisted that the French had not raised any such concerns with them.
It comes as Mr Wallace has been tipped to take over as head of Nato when Jens Stoltenberg, the current Secretary-General, steps down in October. On Tuesday, sources speculated that the French might rather the role went to an EU figure, and may be briefing to undermine Mr Wallace’s chances.
Thomas Gassilloud, president of the French parliamentary defence committee and an MP in Mr Macron’s Renaissance group, told the Telegraph the French had a vested interest in the strength of the British military due to a “strategic solidarity” between the two nations.
“We want the British to have a strong army,” Mr Gassilloud said. “When you have this type of debate it clearly is a source of concern. I have well understood that there is a political context to this regarding the defence budget and if this debate comes now it’s because everyone wants to weigh in on this debate.”
He also sounded a note of caution over how the UK has given kit to Ukraine.
Mr Gassilloud said: “One of our criteria for giving away equipment is the condition of not weakening the French military. For example, last week we pledged more Caesar howitzers but these came directly from industry to the Ukrainians and were not taken from army stock. I think that all the equipment sent by the British to Ukraine appears to have been taken from army stock. We pay careful attention this is not the case.”
The UK has been generous in its donations to Kyiv, which have included NLAW and Brimstone anti-tank missiles, Sea King helicopters, artillery shells, and most recently an order of 14 Challenger 2 tanks.
General Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of the Army, recently warned that it would be “temporarily weaker” as a result.
Meanwhile, Mr Stoltenberg on Monday warned that Ukraine was getting through ammunition faster than Nato member states could produce it.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, warned that the suggestion from the French could play into Vladimir Putin’s hands.
“This Nato ministerial is a vital opportunity to show unity, commitment and resolve to upgrade our collective defence posture as Russia attempts to redraw the map of Eastern Europe,” he said.
“It is true Britain’s Army requires an urgent upgrade but this must be addressed in the Integrated Review refresh. Any public bickering between Nato allies only plays to Putin’s advantage.”
The Ministry of Defence and the Treasury are locked in negotiations about how large an increase there should be in military spending.
The Telegraph revealed in December that the MoD will get at least a billion-pound boost to stop real term cuts in its budget.
However, there is now a wider debate about how high the increase should go, with decisions to be announced in the Budget on March 15.
The MoD is reportedly pushing for a rise of around £10 bn. Meanwhile, Treasury officials have accused the MoD of past overspends.
A backdrop of sustained pressure to provide weaponry and machinery to Ukraine, and the geopolitical challenges from Russia and China, has shaped the discussions.
‘Lack of money’
Senior defence sources told The Telegraph on Tuesday that there was “lack of money” for the Ministry of Defence and that this would be reflected in the budget and the updated Integrated Review.
Under the 2021 Integrated Review there were “radical cuts” of troops by 10,000.
Mr Macron had pledged that France’s military budget for 2024-2030 will stand at €413bn (£364bn), up from €295bn in 2019-2025.
Speaking at the Mont-de-Marsan air base in southwestern France on Jan 20 he said: “As war is changing, France has and will have armies ready for the perils of the century. We need to be one war ahead.”
A Government spokesman said: “This story is based on unsubstantiated rumours.
“We are ensuring our Armed Forces have the equipment and capability they need – including through the biggest increase to defence spending since the Cold War, and a fully-funded £242bn 10-year equipment plan.
“Our Armed Forces remain among the best in the world and are one of the leading contributors to Nato. Next year we will take on the leadership of Nato’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force – we have deployed over 8,000 troops last year alone.” (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
10 Feb 23. UK armed forces would last just ‘five days’ in a war, senior MP warns Tory chair of defence committee, says cost of replacing kit sent to Ukraine and high inflation had created ‘a really grim picture.’ Britain’s armed forces would “last about five days” if there was a war, a senior Conservative MP has claimed, as pressure increases on the chancellor to boost defence spending in next month’s Budget. Tobias Ellwood, Tory chair of the Commons defence committee, told the Financial Times that high inflation and the cost of replacing equipment sent to Ukraine had created “a really grim picture” and left military supplies seriously depleted. Jeremy Hunt has vowed to consider the case for more military spending in his Budget in response to an update of the government’s 2021 foreign and defence policy, expected in the coming weeks. The revamping of the so-called “Integrated Review” by John Bew, a historian and member of the Number 10 policy unit, will take account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The original document was billed as a “tilt to the Indo-Pacific”. In the meantime the lobbying for more military spending is increasing, with defence officials privately discussing a range of eye-catching measures to save money. One person briefed on the discussions told the FT these could include the mothballing of HMS Prince of Wales, one of the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers, fewer RAF flights and the possible cutting of special forces operations. Treasury insiders were scornful of such “doomsday scenarios”, often described in One Horse Guards Road as “shroud waving”. The state of the British army has become a domestic political issue. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who has lobbied for extra funding over the past year, told parliament last week that the UK had “hollowed out and underfunded” its forces. It was an admission that John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, leapt on as “a frank admission of failure over 13 years of Conservative government”. Ellwood claimed the army was seriously short of surface-to-air and anti-tank missiles, which are among the weaponry supplied to Ukraine. “I’m very concerned that the message coming out of the Treasury is indicating that we must brace ourselves for further real terms cuts because inflation is rising,” he said. The Ministry of Defence said: “These are speculative rumours, which always circulate before a Budget and even more so in the run-up to the integrated review. We don’t comment on speculation.” There is frustration in the Treasury and Number 10 about the campaign for more military spending. Hunt’s team points out that £242bn has been earmarked for a 10-year equipment procurement plan. Rishi Sunak, as chancellor under Boris Johnson’s government, in 2020 promised an extra £16bn for defence across four years, hailed as the biggest boost to defence spending since the cold war. Hunt said in his Autumn Statement last year: “The prime minister and I both recognise the need to increase defence spending. But before we make that commitment, it is necessary to revise and update the Integrated Review, written as it was before the Ukraine invasion.” Recommended News in-depthWar in Ukraine Military briefing: how the UK took a vanguard role on arms for Ukraine During last year’s Tory leadership contests, Sunak refused to match promises by rivals to increase defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030, up from just over 2 per cent now. But a spokesman for Sunak said the prime minister’s commitment to defence was clear, given he had increased the military budget and had sent considerable shipments of arms to Ukraine. Britain has so far provided more than £2.3bn of military aid to Ukraine, and the government has also allocated £560mn to the MoD to replenish depleted UK weapons stockpiles. (Source: FT.com)
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