Friday, May 27, 2011

Quick Update on the V4

Timing is interesting.

The formation of the Visegrad 4 Battle Group seems to have awakened the United States to its own relative distraction from Eastern European allies.

Poland, which has been asking for American "boots on the ground" (if for no other reason than as a symbolic stand that the United States will defend Poland from Russia), finally extracted a pledge from President Obama, who will be visiting Saturday.

The US will be placing aircraft and trainers in a Polish base to beef up the Polish air force. The president has also assured the US commitment to the NATO precept: mutual defense.

The fact that President Obama needed to make this reassurance to an ally that was staunchly secure during the Bush years is a sign that the US has begun to recognize its poor attention to the area. It's also a sign that the V4 is being taken very seriously, and immediately.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Visegrad 4: Eastern Europe as a Major Player

Our "Blocanization of Europe" series will include a number of posts, each outlining what the new bloc will look like, why the bloc is losing faith in the NATO/EU system (if it ever bought in at all), and why each country is choosing the group it's choosing. Our upcoming posts should look like this:

1) The Visegrad 4: Eastern Europe as a Major Player
2) The Re-Emergent Russian Bloc
3) Baltic Solidarity to an Emerging Russia
4) The EU Periphery: "Core" EU's Albatross
5) The Atlantics: A Return to Arms-Length Continental Management

Today, we'll be discussing the Visegrad 4, if for no other reason than we find them the most interesting and most potentially game-changing bloc of Europe.

The formation of a Visegrad 4 "Battle Group" was the original even that prompted our thinking about the blocanization of Europe; it is both a symptom of and (will be) an emerging cause of declining European solidarity.

Ultimately, NATO's inability to completely defeat the Russian Bloc (by failing to integrate Ukraine and Georgia into NATO) meant that European security could not be completely ignored; that, combined with NATO's attention locked in the Middle East (and thus not on Eastern European security: the United States has pledged only a single army brigrade to the defense of the Visegrad 4) have led to a serious security crisis for the V4. With a strong Russia and a weakened will by NATO to commit to Eastern Europe's defense, the Visegrad 4 had to take matters into its own hands.

The Visegrad 4 battle group certainly projects a strong regional commitment to a unified defense of the plains from Russia; perhaps more importantly, it will have a significant material impact on the region's ability to defend itself.

The Battle Group will allow each country to streamline its military to adopt regional command and control; sharing resources will allow each country to reduce redundancy and redirect freed resources to extra firepower or new specialization. Shared intelligence will lead to greater regional awareness, and thus better response times and effectiveness. Most importantly, the Battle Group means that the V4's entire military force could potentially focus on a single area quickly (both due to bureaucratic reductions and effective regional planning on troop mobilization and transportation), thus making it much harder to "pick off" individual countries in the region.

Historically, such "picking-off" has been a key strategy for both Germany and Russia in consolidating power in the region (Germany and the Soviet Union were both successful in such a strategy in the 20th century); the V4's Battle Group nearly guarantees such a strategy will not work, as long as the will to support it remains (which it should into the medium-term future).

Romania and Bulgaria similarly recall the harsh rule of the Soviet Union, and wish to avoid any similar arrangement. They joined the EU and NATO in order to guarantee security against any repeat incidents, but the relative aloofness of NATO and a breakdown of confidence in the EU as a supranational structure is likely to push these two countries towards the next-best alternative: the V4.

Neither Romania nor Bulgaria has yet shown commitment to join the V4; in particular, Hungary and Romania have had regional disputes over territory and mutual security. But, if Russia's regional assertiveness continues to grow, these two countries will need to seek shelter. There is potential, especially in Bulgaria, to fall into Turkey's sphere, but a European rejection of Turkey's bid for EU membership is likely to push it towards the Arab region (where it already seem sto be facing).

The Visegrad 4's strengthening has implications beyond its own interactions internally and with Russia. Eastern Europe is currently the EU's most dynamic economic region, with highest yearly GDP growth on the continent. While the region is still economically troubled, its structural advantages set it up to continue to grow over the next decade.

If the EU's financial strength continues to weaken, the V4 may become the economic stronghold of the continent--and its influence over the region will grow as many countries come to depend on its growing economic strength.

Practically-speaking, the US and UK will not abandon the V4 entirely: they see the V4 region (in particular) as a stronghold against an emerging Russia, and will support it when times become dire enough. But Middle Eastern distractions have turned the attention of the V4's major allies, and this group will wisely remember not to depend too heavily upon Western allied support against Russia--it has failed multiple times in the 20th century (during the German invasion of Poland, the Hungarian and Czech revolts against the Soviet Union), and the Visegrad 4 will not sit by to allow another such failure.

Expect, in the future, for the Visegrad 4 to grow increasingly strong and assertive as it finds its center of gravity. The region faces many risks to its long-term security, but it is likely to have the influence and weight, when the situation grows "dire," to man its own front lines and call upon the help it will need from the US and UK.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Blocanization of Europe: An Introduction

I'll keep this one quick.

I've been doing some thinking about how Europe has been changing in the past decade, especially with the military rise of the Visegrad 4. It has been a dramatic change indeed.

A large portion of my next few posts will be focused on this series: The Blocanization of Europe. In short: the vision of a single unified Europe is beginning to show the signs of fray -- a "blocanization" of the continent is beginning, based on natural lines of national interest and security.

In particular, as we see NATO's commitment to European Security weaken, and the financial integrity of the European Union shaken, the ability to depend on the hope of a strong, unified Europe is diminishing.

We'll be focusing on the reasons for this, and the new blocs emerging--and what each means. As a teaser, I've attached a map of these blocs, built on my current understanding of the geopolitical makeup of the new Europe.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Quick Visual Biography of Bin Laden

I'm typically not a fan of re-posting, but this brief biography of Osama Bin Laden is actually a great combination of comprehensive and brief. Worth a look:

Click image to enlarge
Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden
Via: VA Home Loans, a company trying to sell you stuff, but it's a pretty good image, nonetheless.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Bin Laden's Death Means

Bin Laden's death at the hands of American special forces sheds insight in two ways: learnings for the present, and implications for the future.

The Present (Answering the question "What does this demonstrate about the current state of the world?"):
1) Arab Muslim Sentiment: There has been little Arab outrage over the death of Bin Laden, or any other signs of upswollen support for the Al Qaeda movement. It's a sign that Al Qaeda has low popularity among the Arab Muslim world, which will cause it to be increasingly marginalized: "grassroots" movements like Al Qaeda rely on some popular support for both resources and sanctuary. It's a sign that Al Qaeda's message of global Jihad is falling on relatively deaf ears... and a sign that its ability to commit high-casualty transnational attacks is severely limited (as much as from pressure in Afghanistan as from losing the "propaganda war" for the hearts/minds of the Arab Muslim population).

2) Pakistan: one must be asking, "How did Bin Laden make it for nearly 10 years in Pakistan without being caught?" He wasn't even deep in a remote mountain area; he was in a relatively safe and populated town near Islamabad (people less than 1km away were tweeting about the noise from the American helicopters). Is Pakistan's intelligence service lacking in competence, or loyalty? Did Bin Laden have inside help? The US will need to figure this out.

Implications (Answering the "So What?"s hanging out there):
1) Al Qaeda Leadership: Damaged some, though not necessarily in any serious operational capacity. Al Qaeda became a relatively independent "cell" network that did sometimes interact with central leadership, but not terribly often. Tactics are generally left to the cells, and strategic (even if not "visionary") leadership is currently delegated to regional authorities (like Al Qaeda of the Arabian Penninsula, Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, etc).

Visionary leadership may well end up being lacking for Al Qaeda, but it may have been lacking for some time now. Bin Laden's grainy audio messages to go bomb this country or that country have largely failed to inspire any results, even if a few extremists were inspired to try.

2) The ground situation in Afghanistan: Little to no effect. Al Qaeda has been driven into Pakistan, and NATO is currently fighting a nationalist Islamist movement (the Taliban) rather than a transnationalist movement. The Taliban are certainly "bad guys" in the Western moral sense (in a much more clearly morally outrageous way than, say, the Viet Cong), but don't answer to Bin Laden and largely don't support his views of transnationalist Jihad. The Afghanistan "ground" situation won't change--the US hasn't beheaded the Taliban's leadership.

3) US Strategy: Ultimately, the signs are generally pointing to the fact that we may be slow to accept: that Al Qaeda, while still technically "in existence," is largely eliminated as a threat to the US. Other Islamist networks exist (in Algeria, in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia), but they have little traction to go transnational.

Not because of Bin Laden's death, but based on leading indicators from the response worldwide to Bin Laden's death, it may be increasingly clear: the War on Terror is won. Transnational terror movements are fractured and unpopular; the Arab world is more concerned with nationalism and democratic reform than it is with beating back the spread of Western culture through jihad.

Not to say there aren't many, many problems remaining in the Middle East. The US cannot ignore the region, but it can largely move towards a state where it is no longer burning its resources--and losing its sons--to the region.