Saturday, June 27, 2009

Neda - Icon of a beaten down revolution

She was sixteen...or no, maybe 27, or was it 26? Her name was Neda Agha Soltan. She was demonstrating on the streets of Teheran...or did she merely get out of her car, because the airco was malfunctioning? In the past week many facts have been circulating the Internet, but it is hard to find out what is true and what is not. What we can say is that Neda has become the face of a protesting nation. No journalist was needed to turn her into that face. The film in which she got killed went around the world and was made with a mobile phone and burst into the world through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc..She has grown into a symbol of demonstrators around the world. Her face and her cruel death will live in the minds and hearts of the people of Iran and the world for a long time. Just like the face of Kim Phuc, during the Vietnam-war and the man who stopped several tanks during the june-protest in Beijing in 1989.

Friday, June 26, 2009

June 26th in Transatlantic History

Dear Friends,

This Friday again I will direct your attention to a historical event(s) related to the transatlantic relations that happened on the same date.

On June 26th in 1945 – The United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco.
The United Nations Charter is the treaty that forms and establishes the international organization called the United Nations. It was signed at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in the Veterans Auditorium (now the Herbst Theatre) of the War Memorial Veterans Building in San Francisco, California, United States, on June 26, 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland, the other original member, which was not represented at the conference, signed it later).

On June 26th 1963 – John F. Kennedy speaks the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner" on a visit to West Berlin.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner") is a quotation from a June 26, 1963 speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin. He was underlining the support of the United States for West Germany 22 months after the Soviet-supported Communist state of East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West.

The speech is considered one of Kennedy's best, and a notable moment of the Cold War. It was a great morale boost for West Berliners, who lived in an enclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible East German occupation. Speaking from the balcony of Rathaus Schöneberg, Kennedy said,

'Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner'... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'

Kennedy came up with the phrase at the last moment, as well as the idea to say it in German. Kennedy asked his interpreter Robert H. Lochner to translate "I am a Berliner" only as they walked up the stairs at the Rathaus (City Hall). With Lochner's help, Kennedy practised the phrase in the office of then-Mayor Willy Brandt, and in his own hand made a cue card with phonetic spelling (the cue card).

Serbia: Angry reaction to Bulgaria’s release of former Kosovo PM

Belgrade, 26 June (AKI) – Serbian leaders have reacted angrily to a Bulgarian court's decision to release former Kosovo prime minister and war crimes suspect Agim Ceku, whose extradition is being sought by Belgrade. Deputy prime minister Ivica Dacic said that the decision of Bulgaria’s court would not help “good neighbourly relations” between the two countries. Perhaps Ivica Dacic can start working for 'good neighbourly relations' with returning back the Bulgarian priests in Bosilegrad and Dimitrovgrad where the Bulgarian minority in Serbia resides.

Ceku was arrested on Tuesday at a border crossing between Macedonia and Bulgaria by police acting on a Serbian Interpol arrest warrant. But he was set free by a Bulgarian court on Thursday.

“Obviously, the work of Interpol is burdened by political pressures on judiciary organs,” said Dacic, who is also a police minister.

Ceku, who was Kosovo prime minister from 2006 to 2008, had been arrested on three previous occasions in Slovenia, Hungary and Colombia, but each time was released. If he was released previously than obviously Mr. Dacic should not throw in the 'good neighbourly relations' into the equation.

He was formerly a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army which began a rebellion against Serbian rule in 1998, and has been held responsible by Serbian authorities for the deaths of 669 Serbs and 18 members of other minorities in Kosovo under the “chain of command" principle.

Although Serbia demanded Ceku’s extradition on the basis of the international arrest warrant, justice minister Snezana Malovic said she never got a reply from the Bulgarian government.

“This matter must be discussed seriously, because it hampers police cooperation in the struggle against crime, terrorism and war crimes,” Dacic said.

“Had something like that happened in Serbia, we would have reason to be ashamed tonight,” said foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, referring to the Bulgarian court decision.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia with the support of western powers last year and Belgrade has practically no jurisdiction over its former province, which was put under UN administration in 1999.

Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu was quoted by the Albanian daily Koha ditore on Friday saying Interpol should not act on the Serbian arrest warrant.

If it were up to Belgrade, all Kosovo leaders who fought for independence would be arrested, he said.

Amnesty International claimed on Thursday there was no reason why Ceku shouldn’t be extradited to Serbia. “The Bulgarian authorities should extradite Agim Ceku promptly to Serbia where his case should be prosecuted in line with international fair trial standards,” the statement said.

It called on the UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) not to obstruct Ceku's extradition.

Kosovo media reported that foreign diplomats and UNMIK had intervened on Ceku’s behalf, demanding his release.

Ceku himself has said that his extradition “wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest and would aggravate international relations”.

Poll: 2/3 of Estonians consider NATO as the main security guarantee

According to the open poll organised by Turu-uuringute AS in the second half of May, the residents of Estonia regard NATO and the European Union as the main security safeguards of the state. The actions of the state in the field of national defence and the Defence Forces are regarded as reliable.
The residents of Estonia trust the Defence Forces significantly more than an average institution. The Defence Forces are trusted by a total of 81% of Estonians and 62% of non-Estonians. The assessment of the reliability of the National Defence League amounts to an average of 64 per cent of the people. The main task of the National Defence League is deemed to be participation in the elimination of the consequences of the accidents and disasters that take place in Estonia and the solving of domestic security crises.
The participation of the members of the Defence Forces in international peace operations is supported by 58% of the respondents, who mainly justify it with support by NATO to Estonia in case of potential threats. The respondents also deemed it important that soldiers get necessary real combat experience and that peace is guaranteed in crisis areas.
45 per cent of the people of Estonia believed in the occurrence of military conflicts in the coming decade, which is one fifth less than a year ago, when the feeling of danger sharpened in relation to the Russia-Georgia conflict. Although 30 per cent of the respondents regard the actions of Russia towards increasing its power in the world as another factor that endangers the security of the world, a military attack against Estonia is not deemed likely. Within Estonia, the main security risks are deemed to be cyber attacks and sea pollution, with which Estonia has had real contact over the past few years.
The main security safeguards for Estonia are deemed to be membership in NATO and the European Union, and cooperation and good neighbourly relations with Russia. Estonians regard membership in NATO as the most significant security safeguard, whereas non-Estonian respondents deem it to be good relations with Russia.
Almost two-thirds of the residents of Estonia favour keeping national defence expenses at the current level; 18% of the residents deem it important to increase the defence budget. The results of the poll indicate that the defensive will of the people remains high – 77 per cent of the residents of Estonia favour the initiation of armed resistance in case of military aggression. The poll also showed that people have not been informed well enough about how to behave and what to do in defence of Estonia, should an attack by a foreign enemy threaten the country. Following Estonia’s accession to NATO, support for the Alliance has remained at a stable high of 71-78%. Estonians continue to be more positively disposed towards NATO than non-Estonians.
The present poll also investigated the importance of various information channels among the residents. The information sources that shape the comprehension of the Russian-speaking public of Estonian politics and national defence are opposed to those that are used and trusted by Estonians. In the ranking of the reliability of media channels among non-Estonian respondents, Pervyi Baltiiski Kanal ranks first. Though ETV and Raadio 4 are reliable for two-thirds of the Russian-speaking respondents, they still rank lower than the information sources from Russia. This fact affects the attitudes and positions related to NATO and other national defence in the Russian-speaking community.
The support for compulsory military service remains very high (93%). The goals that compulsory military service for young men and the reserve army should fulfil were most often perceived to be the teaching of military skills and the provision of skills for operating in civil emergencies.
82% of residents favour the inclusion of the National Defence Course in school curricula.
The regular public polls mapping the national defence related positions of the residents of Estonia are being organised by order of the Ministry of Defence for the tenth year in a row already. The polls demonstrate the assessment of the people regarding the security of the world and Estonia, the comprehension of primary security risks, the attitude towards the organisation of Estonian national defence and the institutions engaged in national defence and the safeguarding of the security of the residents, the defensive will of the residents and other important positions related to national defence.
The poll is available on the homepage of the Ministry of Defence, at:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

YATA Newsletter June 2009

Dear friends,

The YATA Newsletter June 2009 has just been released. You can check it here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thriving Crisis in Iran

A few days ago Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, pointed out in his speech that 'extremist actions would evoke extremist reactions'. He was refering to the demonstrations, which were begining to raise at the time, generated mainly by losing president-candidate Moesavi. Then the biggest question was what the demonstration would bring to Iran. Among the possible scenarios, the least preferred was that the demonstration would turn out into a bloody escalation of the event. (Source: Brendan's article)

According to the news today, sometimes the worst scenarios are the most likely to occur... even though citizens living in democratic countries were hoping for a peaceful resolution, at least 10 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when police clashed with protesters - called "terrorists" - in Tehran on Saturday, Iranian state TV stated. Central media earlier said 13 had died, but the toll was then reduced.

Unfortunately, the reports cannot be verified as foreign media in Iran are being severely restricted. There is a high chance that the number of protesters killed in the incomprehensible actions of Iranian police might be even higher than 13.

For more news, please go to:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

NATO Secretary General visits different regions in Afghanistan

NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, visited different regions during his farewell trip to Afghanistan from 17 to 19 June 2009.

On 18 June 2009, the Secretary General visited the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Chagcharan, Regional Command West, where he hailed efforts invested in the province under the Lithuanian leadership since 2006. Accompanied by the Governor of Ghowr Province Said Mohammad Munib, he visited a civil servants training centre and a girls school. “I have come here representing 28 NATO countries and the 42 nations from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to reaffirm our long term commitment with Afghanistan”, NATO Secretary General told Ghowr Province Governor Munib, “rest assured that ISAF will do everything it can to allow reconstruction and development to speed up alongside the military effort”.

The Secretary General also met with the Japanese development advisors and thanked Japan for its considerable support to the reconstruction of Afghanistan through the NATO-Japan Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GAGP) scheme.

The Secretary General then headed to Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan, Regional Command South, where he enjoyed a last walkabout with the Dutch and the Australian troops, congratulating them for their tremendous job in often difficult and dangerous conditions, alongside units from the Afghan National Army.

De Hoop Scheffer seized the opportunity for an exchange of views with Governor Hamdam of Uruzgan province and UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) representative Gregory Raikes.

The Secretary Generally finally flew to Patrol Base Buman to pay tribute to Australia’s dedication and commitment to the ISAF mission, highlighting the effort of the main non-NATO contributor to ISAF.

Throughout his two-day visit, the Secretary General met with a number of Afghan local representatives, as well as with presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. The Secretary General called on all Afghans to participate in the forthcoming elections, as these will be a crucial milestone in paving the way for Afghanistan’s long-term stability.

A new day for Iran

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, said in his speech yesterday that 'that extremist actions would evoke extremist reactions'. In saying this he underlined that demonstrations today are strongly forbidden. By then, losing president-candidate Moesavi had already called out to his followers to meet for a demonstration at The Square of Freedom today, where on Monday at least seven people got killed during demonstrations. The big question now is what todays' demonstration will bring. There are 5 possible scenario's:

* Moesavi will ask his followers not to demonstrate today in the end, taking into account their safety and security. This will possibly also mean the end of his political career.
* The demonstration of today will turn out to be a revolution like in 1979.
* Ayatollah Khameini will write out new elections.
* Zimbabew-option: Moesavi will become a prime minister under president Ahmadinedjad.
* The demonstration of today could turn out into a bloody escalation of the event.

We will have to wait and see what this new day will bring for Iran...

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Myth of a No-NATO-Enlargement Pledge to Russia

Mark Kramer
The Washington Quarterly
April 2009

In the latter half of the 1990s, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was preparing to expand its membership for the first time since the admission of Spain in 1982, Russian officials claimed that the entry of former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO would violate a solemn ‘‘pledge’’ made by the governments of West Germany and the United States in 1990 not to bring any former Communist states into the alliance.1 Anatolii Adamishin, who was Soviet deputy foreign minister in 1990, claimed in 1997 that ‘‘we were told during the German reunification process that NATO would not expand.’’ Other former Soviet officials, including Mikhail Gorbachev, made similar assertions in 1996—1997. Some Western analysts and former officials, including Jack F. Matlock, who was the U.S. ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1990, endorsed this view, arguing that Gorbachev received a ‘‘clear commitment that if Germany united, and stayed in NATO, the borders of NATO would not move eastward.’’ Pointing to comments recorded by the journalists Michael Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara averred that ‘‘the United States pledged never to expand NATO eastward if Moscow would agree to the unification of Germany.’’ According to this view, ‘‘the Clinton administration reneged on that commitment . . . when it decided to expand NATO to Eastern Europe.’’
The full article is here

Why we might loose in Afghanistan?

The answer is here:

The media role in Iran's election

Reading material:

Maximilian Forte. America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution. Open Anthropology, June 17, 2009

Evgeny Moroz. The repercussions of a 'Twitter revolution'. Boston Globe, June 20, 2009

Pakistan: Swat Valley's humanitarian crisis

"NATO and Afghanistan - To act or to collapse, that is the question"

Article by Bernardo Pires de Lima, researcher at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations, published in The Majalla Magazine:

As the new US Administration strategy for Afghanistan is being implemented, doubts arise within NATO.  Are the European members of the organization willing to uphold bigger responsibilities in the reconstruction and counter-insurgency effort, as the US eagerly but also sceptically expects them to? In the meanwhile, the bigger picture is the question of whether European leaders are ready to recognize the political and strategic relevance of Central Asia, and act accordingly.

More than twenty years after the Russian defeat in Afghanistan we may see the Atlantic Alliance with the same epilogue there. One may ask why history is so ironic, so repeated perhaps. The answer is quite simple: a powerful state like the Soviet Union, or a powerful alliance as NATO, weren't and are not prepared to act in anarchy. NATO, in particular, is confronted with a dilemma within its members: few of them are prepared to die in Afghanistan, but most of them are not. This is one of the current problems in Afghanistan, mainly in the south, where the insurgency is more visible and the political situation uncontrolled. To achieve a stable territory, NATO must give some proofs of existence, relevance, coordination and strength in Afghanistan and consider, as Obama Administration has done, the AfPak approach. If it does not so, the end of the most powerful and successful military and political alliance in history will be exactly the same as Soviet Union had two decades ago, its collapse. 

The global NATO already exists. What for?

NATO's recent strategic approach has nothing to do with the old one. Since the Balkan wars its global political dynamic has been followed by an ambitious military buildup in regions that are not euro-atlantic in classic terms. Today, roughly 70 000 military personnel are engaged in NATO missions around the world, in places like Afghanistan, the Gulf of Aden, Lebanon, Iraq, Mediterranean sea, Sudan, Somalia or Pakistan. NATO has deep partnerships with Central Asia, Caucasus, Eastern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, African Union and Latin America. This global approach, geographic and politically speaking, means that this strategy has worldwide security logic in the current international architecture. We should ask if this is the right way to achieve NATO's relevance after the Cold War, but we cannot deny that there is still a central place for NATO in international security environment. 
Is commonly accepted that Afghanistan is the greatest NATO's challenge, and that this global approach it's at stake there. I agree with that. But not for an afghan reason, so to speak: it's at stake because there is no such thing as NATO without the euro-atlantic alliance. And this could be the end of Europe's strategic relevance on the international security community.

The European answer

Obama strategy in Afghanistan is likely to include other states, involving some kind of dialogue with Iran and efforts to bring India, the Gulf states and central Asian countries into the field. Moreover, while US are placing demands on Europe to do more, as we saw during the last NATO summit, European governments are coming under increasing domestic pressure to do less.

Although the ISAF mission has grown from 32,800 troops in November 2006 (one month before Robert Gates replaced Rumsfeld at the Pentagon) to 61,960 in March 2009 (with many of these new forces coming from European countries), 18 out of the 25 EU countries participating in ISAF, have increased their deployment since late 2006 - 43% of ISAF's troops. But, as we know, these numbers don't mean stability, but two things: first, the military efforts are not the only answer to the problem; second, the European military buildup need more accuracy on the ground, courage to fight in the critical zones, and political will from all decision makers.

There are a number of ways Europeans can make a difference in Afghanistan, aside from simply sending more troops. They seem to implicitly agree on what it's needed: the negotiation's opening with some of the Talibans, a development-based approach to counter-narcotics, more civilian reconstruction and more and better training for Afghan security forces enabling them to lead the counter-insurgency effort, as well as regional initiatives that include Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia. This should be the medium-term vision.

But short-term approach should be focused to ensure that elections take place on an atmosphere of relative security, particularly at the country's south and east regions. So far, voter registration has been better than expected in southern provinces like Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Nimroz. But fraud in one part of the country could exacerbate regional and ethnic tensions, with serious implications for a new presidential mandate. Therefore, elections have the potential to undermine much of the progress that has been made since 2001, although being insufficient to provide on their own a new beginning. Conclusion seems obvious: what is needed it's an European military and economic effort during 2009 to ensure that the new President's political legitimacy could guarantee confidence amongst people, economy recovering, peace provided by security and military forces, and the exit door that NATO wants.

Central Asia is crucial to Euro-Atlantic future

There are three stages we should consider about the security link between central Asia and the Euro-Atlantic future.

Firstly, Afghanistan. NATO's role in this century needs a successful AfPak strategy for the next decade. It's not only crucial to its credibility as a multilateral organization at the globalized security architecture, but also to its members, particularly the United States and the preeminent European powers. In other words, the great coalition of the Cold War needs another victory to keep his importance in the global arena.

Secondly, energy supplies. Energy security is one of the core issues which could implode relations among states in the future. European dependence on Russian energy supplies shows how this weapon could be used as a political instrument to balance, divide and change the states behaviour. At the same time, former Soviet republics in Caucasus and central Asia are playing a major role on the dialogue between US and Russia, US and China, and between Russia and China. If one realizes how powerful these three states are and will be in the future, and how their economies will need energy for developing, we are looking to the most relevant region on earth.

Thirdly, the role of Middle East powers. I'm talking about Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel. They all have interests in central asian countries and some of them are intimately linked to United States. Saudi Arabia and Israel need US security umbrella against Iran, and Tehran need partnerships in central Asia to expand its political influence and improve his economic perspectives: it's the regime question.

We need an exit strategy for AfPak. But we also need to assume that an unsuccessful exit strategy could open a free way in central Asia to other powers. This must be the Euro-Alantic mindset, even if the current economic crisis is a strong reason to do nothing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Youth Forum videos

NATO has uploaded some extracts of the NATO Youth Forum. Check it out on Youtube and Daily Motion.

German soldiers 'drink and complain too much to fight Taleban'

Roger Boyes in Berlin
June 17, 2009

They have a beer ration of up to a litre a day, and wurst for dinner. Taleban or no Taleban, Germans take a little bit of home with them when they serve in trouble spots. Even their carefully sorted rubbish gets dumped in wheelie bins before being sent from Afghanistan to Germany for recycling.

Now Germany’s most senior officer has berated his troops for going soft. “We cannot guarantee soldiers that they will have an all-round feel-good experience,” said General Wolfgang Schneiderhan.

His outburst follows complaints made by German soldiers to the official ombudsman about their tours abroad. Some have grumbled about unsuitable sleeping bags for their Congo peace-keeping mission — “there is no reason why this issue should have come before Parliament,” said General Schneiderhan — while others moaned about the long hours, a lack of childcare for their families at home and poor medical care.

Army doctors say that they are on the brink of leaving because pay and conditions are so bad. So many have returned to civilian life that there is a shortage of medics in the field.

We have to tell a professional soldier who complains about his third tour of overseas duty that he has to get a grip — this is his profession,” said General Schneiderhan.

“Perhaps the problem is down to the general tendency in society to delegate responsibility to someone else, or perhaps it is the stress associated with change,” he told several hundred army officers and politicians at an official reception.

It is a far cry from Germany’s old military traditions — the Prussian officers who helped to defeat Napoleon or the tactical flair of Rommel, the Desert Fox, but the troops’ reluctance will not come as a surprise to the country’s allies in combat zones such as Afghanistan, where German participation is limited by a host of caveats.

German Medevac helicopters have to be back at base by dusk. German Tornado aircraft are restricted to unarmed reconaissance. Der Spiegel magazine highlighted the case recently of a Taleban commander — nicknamed the Baghlan Bomber because of his role in blowing up a sugar factory in that northwestern province — who was cornered by the KSK German special service unit but allowed to escape; under the terms of engagement imposed by Parliament the KSK are not authorised to kill unless they are under attack.

Although the north of Afghanistan is not as quiet as it used to be — about 30 German soldiers have been killed since 2001 — other members of the ISAF force have voiced dissatisfaction about Germany’s contribution.

The reports of soldiers’ complaints made to parliament by Reinhold Robbe, the ombudsman, paint a picture of a force that is concentrating more on its own wellbeing than on the peace-keeping mission.

In 2007 German forces in Afghanistan consumed about 90,000 bottles of wine in addition to 1.7 million pints of beer; that figure has stayed constant. British and US bases by contrast have an alcohol ban.

The diet is heavy on carbohydrates, low on fruit and a higher proportion of soldiers are overweight than in the civilian population of Germany. Mr Robbe admitted that too many soldiers had a “passive lifestyle”. In short the soldiers are fat, they drink too much and spend a great deal of time moaning.

There are 3,500 German soldiers in Afghanistan. German troops also take part in missions in Kosovo, Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For much of the postwar period Germans were constitutionally banned from serving on foreign missions.

Deployment still requires a parliamentary mandate and this gives complaining soldiers some clout. If they moan loud enough they can usually secure improvements but they continue to suffer equipment shortages, like their British counterparts.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mousavi's letter to the Iranian people

Mir Hosein Mousavi, Iranian Presidential Candidate, wrote a letter to Iranians following election results. Translation by Al Jazeera.

"Fellow countrymen,I am receiving news about objections to the declared results of the latest elections, from all over the country. I am certain that these reactions are not for my personal sake, but it’s due to concern about a new way of political life that is being forced on our country.
The actions that we have witnessed in these few days have been unprecedented in the Islamic Republic.
If the people are following these present developments with a sense of worry, it’s because of their deep worry for the great achievements of their revolution being in danger.
Those who with the assistance of many violations have declared unbelievable results for the presidential elections, are now trying to establish those results and start a new period of our country’s history.
I have repeatedly, during the course of these elections, have spoken of dangers of escaping from the law and have emphasized that this method might result in tyranny and dictatorship, and today our nation is standing at a point that finds this prospect tangible.
We, as those who are loyal to the Islamic Republic and its constitutional laws, consider the Holy Jurisdiction one of the fundamentals of this regime and follow the political movements within legal frameworks.
I hope the progress of the new events would show the mistake in this impression and, at the same time, we warn that in this country no one who likes the Islamic Republic would accept this method, and this is what demands the bloods of hundreds of thousands of our martyrs to be responsible against it.
Dear people, today, in a letter that I presented to The Guardian Council, I have asked for the annulment of the results of the latest elections and I know this to be the only resolution for gaining the public confidence and the support of the people for the government.
My repeated suggestion as your servant is that you continue your civil and legal opposition all around the country, in a calm manner and observing anti-conflict fundamentals.
We have asked the responsible people to issue a permit for a mass rally in all the cities in Iran so that the people will have an opportunity to show their opposition towards the results of these elections and the way it was conducted.
The authorities’ agreement could be the best resolution for restraining the present tensions.
Let’s not abandon the green color which is a symbol of spirituality, freedom and religious mentality and moderateness and the Allah O Akbar slogan that tells us of revolutionary roots.
This is the color and slogan that is still unifying our nation and will be the best measure to connect our hearts and needs.
Sadly, an extensive effort has is being used to cut off our means of communication with each other, and it is not noticed that that the blocking of these lines would change the nature of the organized and goal-driven reactions to, God-forbidding, change into blind actions.
I am certain that your creativity would result in new and effective ways of communication so that we could use our actions in a beneficial way for the country and the revolution.
As someone who likes the police, I recommend them avoid harsh reactions towards people’s self-motivated actions and not let the people’s trust to this worthy organ be damaged.
These people have come to the scene to demand both their, and your, rights and they are your brothers and sisters. The power of the police and military forces of our country has always lied in their unity with the people and it will be the same in the future."

Russian Military Cuts Leave Soldiers Adrift

Col. Oleg G. Malgin and other Russian officers are housed in a former flophouse near Moscow

Published: June 11, 2009
NY Times

KUBINKA, Russia — Next to a parking lot here is an orphan of a building that could be mistaken for a large toolshed. It was once used as a flophouse by transient workers who put up nearby apartments, but was then deemed by health inspectors to be unfit for humans. Mold coats the walls like graffiti, ceilings are crumpling and rats skulk about.

Yet for the last seven years, the building has been home to several high-ranking Russian Air Force officers, their wives and their children. “In truth,” said one of them, Col. Vyacheslav V. Solyakov, “the military has turned us into vagrants.”

The dismal condition of the assigned housing for the officers is a telling sign of the state of the armed forces nearly two decades after the Soviet Union’s fall. And now, the officers are facing what they view as a final humiliation: they are to be discharged in the coming months as part of the most significant military overhaul in generations.

The Kremlin wants to revamp a top-heavy institution by sharply cutting the number of officers and carrying out a long overdue transition from a cumbersome military machine designed for a land war in Europe to a lithe force that would handle regional wars and terrorism.

Though praised by military analysts, the plan seems likely to create a corps of tens of thousands of disgruntled former officers who are entering an economy suffering from the financial crisis.

With Russia’s economy strong in the years before the crisis, the Kremlin tried to improve the military by increasing spending on equipment and training. But senior officials acknowledge that the war in Georgia last August exposed severe deficiencies, despite Russia’s easy victory.

The armed forces have 1.1 million people now, including 360,000 officers, and the plan is to cut the officer corps to 150,000, officials said. The reductions, first announced last year, have stirred sporadic demonstrations by officers, and some longtime generals have resigned in protest or been pushed out.

Officers who served in East Germany or fought in Afghanistan in the last days of the Soviet empire, who waged Russia’s ferocious campaign to suppress a Muslim insurgency in Chechnya — no matter, they are being let go.

And the men here in Kubinka said they were convinced that the government, which had already let them down by housing them in the shed, would completely abandon them by refusing them the benefits that they deserved.

“Everyone is very upset,” said Col. Yevgeny S. Ugolnikov, 49, an aviation engineer who joined the military in 1983. “There are no prospects for our futures. We have no apartment, no possibility of finding a job. How are we going to get by? It’s totally impossible to know.” [...]

The officers, who are assigned to an air force base in Kubinka, said they were no longer reluctant to speak out, despite military restrictions on going public with their problems. They said they suspected that the only way they would receive proper benefits would be to pay bribes. Corruption iswidespread in Russia, and the military is considered to be especially afflicted.

Salaries in the Russian military have long been low — some of the officers here said they were paid $600 a month — but one perquisite that seemed to compensate for the pay was a rule that long-serving officers received a proper apartment when discharged.

Col. Anatoly N. Zhuravlyov, 46, a tenant in the building until recently, said his superiors told him that he would get an apartment only if he paid a kickback of $18,500. [...]

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New gains for Poland in NATO amidst frustration

This week brought both good news and frustration for Poland.


1. Polish general in NATO HQ.
Poland will appoint seven generals to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One of them will be deployed in the NATO headquarters in Norfolk, USA. According to NATO’s rules, each member country is allowed to have a certain amount of so-called ‘stars,’ which correspond to the number of generals employed by the alliance. So far, Poland has had four stars but after the command reform it will have seven stars.

“In NATO’s slang having seven ‘stars’ is synonymous to having a deputy commander in the Allied Command Transformation headquarters in Norfolk. The Polish General will have to share the post with his Italian counterpart, taking turns. Nevertheless, it is a great success for Poland as we have never held such a high office in the NATO,” said Defence Minister Bogdan Klich.
2. NATO Joint Battle Command Centre in Bydgoszcz, nothern Poland
Defense Minister Bogdan Klich has announced that NATO will locate the Joint Battle Command Centre in Bydgoszcz, northern Poland, following the decision by defense ministers at a NATO meeting in Brussels. The NATO battalion will be made up of six joint mobile modules from member countries.

“In Bydgoszcz, we will have the permanent commanders of the battalion and other components: one of the six joint mobile modules, a security component and logistics and support operators,” claimed Klich, adding that the unit stationed in Poland will be composed of about 200 NATO soldiers.

The Defense Minister would like to make Bydgoszcz Poland’s NATO centre. Since 2004, the city has hosted NATO’s Joint Forces Training Centre.

According to Klich, the decision carries a lot of weight for Poland. “The more alliance institutions in Poland, the greater is our sense of security,” claimed Klich, highlighting the fact that NATO has decided to heavily invest in Poland by modernizing military infrastructure including air and sea bases.
1. NO MRAP-type vehicles for Poland
During talks in Brussels, Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich was told that Poland will not receive MRAP-type vehicles. The MRAP-type vehicles, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, are specifically designed to survive attacks from IEDs, which have been the most dangerous to coalition troops in Afghanistan. The vehicles, weighing in at over 14 tonnes, have significantly reduced the number of deaths since their introduction to the war in Iraq, and the Polish military had hoped to protect its soldiers in Afghanistan through their use.For now, Polish soldiers in Afghanistan will continue to use MRAPs borrowed from the American military, as well as the Polish-made KTO Rosomak (Kołowy Transporter Opancerzony, or Wheeled Armored Vehicle) that is already in use.After the meeting with his American counterpart Robert Gates, Minister Klich explained that "The Americans at the moment have their own substantial needs, and these additional vehicles, which are being transferred to Afghanistan, will be used primarily for personal use." Link
2. Poland will receive the promised Patriot missiles, but the missiles will be unarmed.
The declaration on strategic cooperation from August of last year clearly says that the installation of the first battery of Patriot missiles should take place no later than the end of this year,” Bogdan Klich, Poland’s defense minister, said this week in interviews. “We stick to this date in talks with our American partners.”
Despite the optimistic assessment on the Patriot negotiations this week from Mr. Klich, the Foreign Ministry said negotiations on stationing those missiles still faced several hurdles before the missiles could be delivered.

Poland is insisting that after a certain period of time, the Patriot missiles should be based permanently on its soil. So far, the United States is prepared only to rotate the missiles, sending them for a couple of months at a time from Germany to Poland, where U.S. personnel would train the Poles.

“Poland eventually wants the missiles to be based permanently in Poland,” said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “If not, then Poland might even consider purchasing them.”

Will the recession make Europe's militaries weaker?

This is the headline of the blog post of Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Centre for European Reform in London, where he makes his assessment of the current financial crisis on the defence budgets and military capabilities of European countries.

He writes that the economic crisis has wracked government budgets across Europe, as revenues have fallen and spending on stimulus and bailouts has soared. Already, there are signs that defense spending across the continent will suffer. Finance ministers will be looking for ways to reduce deficit and debt, and military budgets are a tempting target.

He points to the two ways how European governments try to reduce defence budget costs:

1. Withdrawal of troops from the international military operations (example, Poland's withdrawal from all UN-led missions), which, although are popular staps at home, but might have grave implications for our hmeland security in the future;

2. Cutting multinational weapons programs and making any purchases domestically so as to protect jobs at home, which also carries risks to produce low quality products as it happened with A400M military transport aircraft.

3. Moreover, the impact of the budget cuts -- particularly the reductions in personnel and equipment -- also threaten to turn some European militaries into showcase forces, incapable of deploying abroad and thus irrelevant to most EU and NATO operations.

Instead, he provides with three possible solutions how to decrease the military spending costs without loosing the efficiency:

1. Rather than withdrawing from conflict zones, European countries and agencies should stop sending overlapping missions to the same trouble spots. Both the EU and NATO sent missions to Sudan in 2007, and three different forces are currently fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia. Better to roll those operations into one; the current duplication wastes taxpayer money;

2. Some of the key equipment that makes modern warfare possible -- such as planes providing air-to-ground surveillance or military transport -- needs to be jointly owned. NATO operates a common fleet of aircraft that coordinates air traffic, and the alliance plans to buy transport airplanes for its members to use. This arrangement allows militaries of smaller and poorer European states, like the new allies in Eastern Europe, to take part in complex operations in distant places.

3. Indeed, the time has come for European governments to consider abandoning parts of their national forces and infrastructure and to form joint units with their neighbors. Modern militaries do virtually all their fighting abroad and in coalition with others. If they lack the money to equip and deploy their soldiers overseas, they need to consider radical cost-saving measures. More governments should do as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg did -- they merged parts of their air forces -- or emulate the Nordic countries, which are considering joining their amphibious units.

Yes, indeed, the time has come for the joint military procurements, and some of European countries have started to follow this path.
On June 4, 2009, Estonia concluded a procurement contract, together with the Finnish Ministry of Defence and the French company Thales-Raytheon Systems, for the procurement of two 3D medium range radar systems, which will cover Estonia and its surrounding airspace with a single radar image.

Estonia and Finland will together procure a total of 14 radar systems of the Ground Master 403 series. The two radar systems intended for Estonia are meant to supplement Estonia’s current sole 3D long range radar in Kellavere, in West-Viru County, and to also provide a sufficient air surveillance image for Western and South-eastern Estonia.
According to Finland’s Minister of Defence, Jyri Häkämies, cooperation with Estonia in the radar acquisition is mutually beneficial and useful. “By combining our acquisitions we can achieve considerable savings. Materiel cooperation enhances further relations between Estonian and Finnish defence administrations,” said Minister of Defence Häkämies.
And the fact that Finland is not a member of NATO makes this deal and cooperation more interesting. Possible joint defence procurements have been discussed recently also among Estonian and Swedish Defence Ministries, NATO and non-NATO country.
On April 23, 2009, at the meeting in Tallinn the Ministers of Defence of the Baltic States discussed in detail the co-operation of the three countries in the area of defence related procurements. The ministers agreed that it is important to analyse in detail the legal and procedural differences between the three countries, the bypassing of which would make it easier to prepare future strategic defence related procurements, stressing this in a joint communique.
As Tomas Jermalavicius, researcher at the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, writes, Joint Communiqué contains firm instructions to national armament directors to look into and harmonize national legislation, processes and procedures in defence procurement, in order to enable much more common procurement in the future. There are even some suggestions to consider joint maintenance as a logical extension of this idea, which would bring about further reductions in costs for the armed forces of the three nations.

Timely and relevant ideas and measures these are, given the budgetary circumstances. And some of the problems in developing cooperation projects between the three states could have been avoided, if joint procurement had been one of the first areas to advance and develop. The Baltic batallion (BALTBAT), which is now being groomed for a duty tour on the NATO Response Force (NRF) next year, is a good example: military experts are struggling to eliminate or mitigate differences in armament and equipment between the units contributed by each country, which stem from different national procurement choices. These differences have very real practical implications to the military effectiveness of common units, and their removal adds to the cost of military cooperation between the three countries.
Indeed, the Baltic states should work also on the interoperability of their own armed forces. For example, during the BALTBAT exercise Baltic Eagle 2009 had to apply common combat procedures and common language during the exercise, using different military equipment. Lithuanian soldiers use armoured M 113 personnel carriers, while the Estonians use SISU and the Latvians use an armoured Humvee wheeled vehicle. Joint procurement of the military equipment would not only enhance interoperability of the BALTBAT, but also save taxpayers money, which is so crucial nowadays as Baltic states face a sharp economic downturn.
And here is a very good presentation about the Baltic defence cooperation:
Military cooperation in the Baltic States: Where Do We Stand? Dr. Arunas Molis, Baltic Defence College, 12th December 2008

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Visegrad Four and YATA

Although the main topics for this week were/are the aftermath of the EU elections and the elections in Iran (both wonderfully covered by Brendan), I would like to draw your attention to an upcoming event.

As you might already know, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary are part of a Central European Alliance, the Visegrad Four. The V4 was established for the purposes of cooperation and furthering their European integration. The Group’s name in the languages of the four countries is Visegrádská čtyřka or Visegrádská skupina (Czech); Visegrádi Együttműködés or Visegrádi négyek (Hungarian); Grupa Wyszehradzka (Polish); and Vyšehradská skupina or Vyšehradská štvorka (Slovak). It is also sometimes referred to as the Visegrád Triangle, since it was the alliance of three states at the beginning - the term is not valid now, but appears sometimes even after all the years since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The Czech Republic and Slovakia became members after the breakup of Czechoslovakia. The Visegrad Group originated in a summit meeting of the heads of state or government of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland held in the Hungarian castle town of Visegrád on February 15, 1991. All four members of the Visegrád Group became part of the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Since 1999, the V4 countries are holding the Group’s presidency for a one year term, from June to June.

The only institution of the Visegrad Four co-operation is the International Visegrad Fund, established in 1999, with the seat in Bratislava. According to a decision of the prime ministers, the Fund has an annual budget of EUR 5 million since 2007 onwards. In 11 annual deadlines the Fund awards grants, scholarships (Master's or postgraduate levels) and artist residencies. Students from the following countries are eligible for the scholarships: the Visegrad Group countries, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia and Ukraine.

In 2002, Hungary initiated the establishment of an Expert Working Group on Energy. This expert group meets once or twice a year in V4 capitals on a rotation basis, and it is always the head of the host country’s delegation that chairs the meeting.

On April 27, 2002, the V4 WG on Energy met in Prague with the aim of discussing recommendations for V4 energy ministers concerning topics negotiated at ministerial level meetings. The WG elaborated recommendations concerning four groups of problems:

  • Recommendations of general nature in the sphere of energy policy, including energy research and development.
  • Recommendation to consider development of emergency natural gas storage.
  • Recommendation to consider construction of new gas and oil pipelines and of new naval LNG terminals.
  • Recommendations in the field of interconnecting power transmission grids.

And why am I writing about the V4?

The Quo Vadis Project

On one hand, the Euro-Atlantic Center (YATA Slovakia) has organized in cooperation with representatives of all V4 YATA national chapters - Jagello 2000 – Association for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Hungarian Youth Atlantic Council and Polish Youth Section – Euro Atlantic Association, in financial cooperation with NATO Public Diplomacy Division an essay writing competition “Quo Vadis V4? Contribution of V4 countries to EU and NATO security policy”, designed for university students from Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

The aim of the competition “Quo Vadis V4? Contribution of V4 Countries to EU and NATO Security Policy” was to engage university students from V4 countries – Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Its goal was to broaden the intellectual know-how of the competitors in the field of international relations and security policy, to promote their active engagement in the given field and to support their skills to analyze and propose solutions of international security issues. Competition would further support the cooperation among young people of the V4 countries, which will lead to more intense contacts and development of the awareness among these countries of their stance on common EU and NATO security policies.

The main added value of the project consisted of the interactive cooperation among participants from all 4 countries. Topic was to be elaborated in two-member teams consisting of V4 countries participants, in order to enable to develop direct international communication among V4 students, what will become an irreplaceable opportunity of mutual based cooperation in finding out a common stance of V4 peoples on common EU and NATO policy.

The competition started in pre-registration of contestants from 15th to 26th of April. The main focus was put on permanent communication and actualization of information between organizers and participants.

Competitors were given the opportunity to write an essay or a case study on the topic of „Contribution of V4 Countries to EU and NATO Security Policy”. The essays/ case studies should have been 10-15 pages long. The main topic for the essays consisted of the following sub-topics:

1. The 60th anniversary of establishment of NATO

2. Presenting the view of political and military future of NATO and EU and cooperation of all
V4 countries in these international structures

3. The future of deeper cooperation between NATO and EU.

4. The influence of relationships among V4 countries on common presence in these structures.

Students had to focus their ideas on analyzing the problematic, thinking of the past, present and future cooperation of V4 countries in the framework of the European Union and NATO by presenting their own opinion and vision on the given topic. The deadline for the essays was May 31. The evaluation of the papers is under process. The winners will get a chance to travel to Brussels and visit the NATO HQ.

Hungarian V4 Presidency

On the other hand, the Republic of Hungary will take over the year-long V4 Presidency from Poland as of July 1st, 2009. The program of the Hungarian Presidency of the Visegrad Group has been made public after the Official Summit of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Group Countries. Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai informed the press that Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Poland and the Slovak Republic at their meeting have endorsed energy policy, economic/financial crisis management and protection against climate change as priorities of the next presidency year. The Hungarian V4 Presidency will also focus on the European integration process of the Western Balkans. Countries addressed by the EU Eastern Partnership will also be regarded as a priority in V4 external activities with a view to accelerating their political association and further integration within the European Union.

PM Bajnai emphasized that the Visegrad Group countries are very much exposed to energy dependency; to ease the consequences they might need a day-to day co-ordination of their energy policy. Until a common European Union energy strategy will be worked out, the V4 countries need concerted efforts.

For the official program of the Hungarian Presidency, please click here:

Elections in Iran

Last week I drawed your attention to the elections of the European Parliament. This week I would like to foccuss on the elections in Iran. The two running candidates, current president Mahmoed Ahmadinedjad and his opponent Mir Hossein Moesabi have both called themselves out as winner of the elections claiming that they both scored 60% of the votes. Ahmadinedjad was backed by Iran's state runs news agency, while Moussavi said that he won and pointed out to voting irregularities. On Saturday morning the Election commission said that with 77% percent of the votes counted, Ahmadinedjad had won 65% of the votes. But the election commission is part of the Interior Ministry which is in the hands of Ahmadinedjad. Fraud is a majour concern to Moussavi. More updated news on the elections you can find through the following website:

The whole election process has been a very emotional and historical one with long waiting lines of people going out to vote and a big turn-up among youngsters and women. Moussavi can count on the support of the intellectuals, young people and members of the moderate establishment while Ahmadinedjad draws his support from the poor, rural Iranians and conservatives.

Ayatollay Khoemeini, who has final authority over affairs of state, could be the only one to mediate between the two candidates. But in this phase of uncertainty and fairness of the elections, he will also have to wait what the coming days bring. President Obama has praised Iran for the inner debate and sees this as a coming of change to Iran.

More news to follow!