5% Digest (week 02/03/15)

In Seumas Milnes’s piece ‘The demonisation of Russia risks paving the way for war‘, he argues that “Ukraine – along with Isis – is being used to revive the doctrines of liberal interventionism and even neoconservatism, discredited on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Hundreds of US troops are arriving in Ukraine and Britain is sending 75 military advisers of its own. This is a direct violation of last month’s Minsk agreement, negotiated with France and Germany – Article 10 requires the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Ukraine.

But when the latest Minsk ceasefire breaks down, as it surely will, there is a real risk that Ukraine’s proxy conflict could turn into full-scale international war.

The Operation Atlantic Resolve, exercises between US troops with Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, which began last April, will continue again and include Romania and Bulgari this year, and possibly further expanded to include Hungary, the Czech Republic and Georgia. “So by the end of the summer, you could very well see an operation that stretches from the Baltics all the way down to the Black Sea,” Col. Michael Foster, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vincenza, Italy. “As you connect countries, there is almost a line of US troops.”

The 173rd this week will also be sending nearly a battalion’s worth of soldiers to the Ukraine to train troops from its national guard, considered separate from Atlantic Resolve, Foster said, “but certainly tied into deterring Russian aggression.”

The leading German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that German leaders are alarmed and troubled by NATO’s aggressive rhetoric on Ukraine – especially those of General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe and Victoria Nuland, head of European affairs at the US State Department.

Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. …

But it is the tone of Breedlove’s announcements that makes Berlin uneasy. False claims and exaggerated accounts, warned a top German official during a recent meeting on Ukraine, have put NATO — and by extension, the entire West — in danger of losing its credibility. …

The government in Berlin is concerned that Breedlove’s statements could harm the West’s credibility. The West can’t counter Russian propaganda with its own propaganda, “rather it must use arguments that are worthy of a constitutional state.” Berlin sources also say that it has become conspicuous that Breedlove’s controversial statements are often made just as a step forward has been made in the difficult negotiations aimed at a political resolution. Berlin sources say that Germany should be able to depend on its allies to support its efforts at peace.

In a recent BBC piece about Wales summit declaration,

Allies currently meeting the Nato guideline to spend a minimum of 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defence will aim to continue to do so.

Allies whose current proportion of GDP spent on defence is below this level will:

  • Halt any decline in defence expenditure
  • Aim to increase defence expenditure in real terms as GDP grows
  • Aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade

the author commented

Yet such a commitment – giving defence equal treatment with health and schools – would not be enough to meet the 2% target.

Because Nato’s benchmark is linked to national income, it requires countries to increase their defence budgets at the rate of economic growth.

At the same time, China is increasing its military spending by 10.1 percent this year. “The spending increase, which will outpace China’s slowing, single-digit GDP growth, builds on a nearly unbroken two-decade run of annual double-digit rises in the defense budget.” Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said

“The defense budget is basically no longer tied to economic performance. There is a political decision made across the board in China that defense spending is sacrosanct, untouchable.”

These demonstrates why the 5% Threshold Rule is important and necessary for putting a break at the growth of military spending. Countries, if let them be, will aspire the growth of military spending to outpace, or at least keep pace with, the GDP growth. The 5% Threshold Rule will make that impossible.

The ‘defence’ spending is not the whole picture. China, like USA, has compatible, if not higher, level of spending on domestic security to its defence spending.

Frank Slijper, author of TNI’s report ‘Guns, Debt and Corruption: Military spending and the EU crisis‘ in a recent interview about the Greek case, commented

Secretary General Rasmussen has used every occasion over the past years to stress the need for high military spending, to avoid any further cuts. Every time the false comparison of Europe with the US is being used to portray that we are getting in danger, because Washington is spending so much more. Such people never mention that the Pentagon’s spending has no equal, certainly not in absolute terms, but also as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Only a few Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel (fed by substantial US military aid) reach that level. For long Greece was the only EU member to come anywhere close to that insane level. Look what it has done to Greece: massive debts for weapons it does not need. Even within the military there is recognition that the big arms deals with France, Germany and the US have only brought financial misery. It would be much better if people would compare with Ireland, which has Europe’s smallest part of GDP devoted to its armed forces.

The official Xinhua news agency argues that ‘concerns’ and ‘worries’ of the increase in China’s military spending is “misplaced and unfounded”. Their reasons are quite informative about China’s official perspective:

First of all, comparatively speaking, the current Chinese military spending is by no means a big one for a country that has the world’s largest population and a territory of over 9 million square km to defend. …

Or so to speak, they neglect on purpose the fact that the budget in 2014 was less than 1.5 percent of its GDP, and lower than the average level of 2.6 percent worldwide.

They also deliberately ignored that China’s per capita military spending in 2014, a key figure that their own military experts hold as an important index in judging a nation’s defense budget, is even less — only one twenty-second that of the United States, one-ninth of Britain and one-fifth of Japan, which does not even have a regular army. …

Second, unlike Britain and Japan that have alliance to share military technology, China’s defense modernization is naturally to be more difficult, as it has to rely mostly on itself to start from scratch, which surely demands a relatively high military expenditure. …

Third, the balance of power, touted by Western politicians as an iron law in their political bible, is unstable in East Asia, with Japan approving its largest ever military budget in January.

In a recent poll of British Labour MPs by CND, 75% of them oppose renewing the nuclear defence system, Trident. The New Yorker has a piece about the Plowshares movement, profiling peace activists who have been trying to break into nuclear-weapons sites throughout the United States since the early nineteen-eighties.

War Is Boring obtained the briefing’s notes and slides via the Freedom of Information Act of Lockheed Martin’s pitch to the US government to allow them to sell/upgrade Taiwan’s ‘obsolete and problematic’ air force.

In the end, Washington allowed the company’s aviation division to upgrade Taiwan’s existing Falcons. But Taiwan has yet to get any of these modified aircraft. …

But if the 2010 briefing is any indication, don’t be surprised if Lockheed once again goes back to the flying branch with warnings of imminent doom—while dissing Taiwan’s warplanes—after it’s finished with the F-16V.

John Ubaldi of Ubaldi Reports argues for comprehensive reform of the way the Pentagon allocates its resources.

If the Pentagon were a company, it would have faced bankruptcy decades ago, as the procurement and acquisition aspect badly needs major reform. Far too often, cost overruns on various weapon systems reach into the billions. Often expensive projects are cancelled before they are ever completed.

He listed several examples of wasting resources:

In an article in Armed Forces Journal, Daniel Davis wrote a short, and by no means exhaustive list, of such failures might include the RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter launched in 1991, canceled after $6.9 billion; the XM2001 Crusader mobile cannon launched in 1995, canceled after $7 billion; and the Future Combat Systems (FCS) launched in 2003, canceled after $20 billion. FCS in particular was notable for senior Army leaders’ efforts to ignore or suppress the results of simulations, tests and analyses that highlighted problems and predicted failure.

This is not only confined to Army, but across all military branches. In this year’s Pentagon budget, $8 billion is set aside for one aircraft program — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — with various variants of the aircraft to be used by the Air force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Last year, Business Insider reported the program’s costs have risen an estimated 68 percent over its initial price tag. The Pentagon now plans to spend $391.2 billion on 2,443 aircraft, with each plane costing a staggering $160 million.

When taking into account the cost of flying and maintaining the F-35, the program could surpass a trillion dollars, according to the Government Accountability Office. …

Congress is not exempt from the lack of budget controls. In 2015, during congressional hearings, the Army pushed back on additional tank increases and upgrades. However, in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, $120 million was set aside for tank upgrades.

Both political parties have allowed wasteful spending, as politicians routinely champion Pentagon spending when a weapon system happens to be in their state or district. This was the case with Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), fighting to keep alive the over $2 billion C-17 cargo planes the Air force did not want or need because it would impact jobs in their state.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel during her recent visit to Japan urged Japanese to confront its wartime conduct

“Without these generous gestures of our neighbours this would not have been possible,” she said. “There was, however, also a readiness in Germany to face our history openly and squarely.

“It’s difficult for me as a German chancellor to give you advice for how to deal with your neighbourhood. It has to come out of a process in society.”

Professor Herbert Ziegler has been pressured by the Japanese government  to delete the entire entry on the comfort women in his history textbook (6th edition). In his recent interview with the Japan Times, he said

So I’m not opposed to revising anything, and if there were 300,000 victims of the Nanjing Massacre instead of the 400,000 I wrote, I will change it to 300,000. But very quickly I try to establish that my issue here had to do with the government. I said, “I don’t care if it’s a domestic or foreign government telling me what to write and what not to write.” And I told them I found that very offensive. It’s a violation of my freedom of speech and of academic freedom. It’s not like a few scholars had contacted me and said, “I read this book and I think there are a few inaccuracies.”

Did you know that in the 15 years this book has been out, not one reviewer hired by the publisher to ferret out mistakes has ever questioned anything about the comfort women? I’d never had a single Japanese scholar contact me, nor any Japanese newspaper, for 15 years. It is only now, all of a sudden. I’m not naive; I’m aware that this is the Abe’s government’s big campaign to do what I would consider revision of Japanese history.