Archive for August, 2015

ESTONIA ‘PLANS BORDER FENCE’ AMID UKRAINE TENSION

August 31, 2015

BBC News on August 28, 2015, reported that Estonia wants to build a fence along its eastern border with Russia to boost security and protect the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone. Excerpts below:
Construction on the fence, planned to be about 110km (70 miles) long and 2.5m (8ft) high, is set to start in 2018.

It is expected to cost about €71m (£52m; $80m), according to reports.

The plans come amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict. Europe is also struggling with an influx of migrants.

“The aim of the construction is to cover the land border with 100%, around-the-clock technical surveillance to create ideal conditions for border guarding and to ensure the security of Estonia and the Schengen area,” interior ministry spokesman Toomas Viks told AFP news agency.

He said information gathered could be used to investigate illegal border crossing, smuggling and human trafficking.

The fence would only cover just over a third of Estonia’s 294km (183 miles) border with Russia as much of it is covered by water, Estonia’s Postimees newspaper reports.

The former Soviet nation is among the EU member states to have borders on the external boundaries of the Schengen zone, which was enables passport-free travel.

Another such country, Hungary, has already started building a 175km-long fence along its border with Serbia to try to keep migrants out. Officials say thousands of people cross into the country every day as they head north into Europe and Germany in particular.

However the focus of the migrants crisis in recent months has been in the Western Balkans, rather than Estonia. Migrants have also continued to make the perilous crossing to Europe via the Mediterranean from Libya.

Earlier in August 2015 Russia jailed Estonian security official Eston Kohver to 15 years in prison for spying in a case that provoked a diplomatic row.

Kohver was detained at the Russian border last September, with Estonia and the EU insisting he was on Estonian soil…
Estonia joined Nato and the EU in 2004.

Comment: The planned Estonian fence is on the land border with Russia is a wise decision. Eston Kohver was obviously kidnapped on Estonian territory. A fence can help Estonia to protect its border. Should Russia decide on a military incursion similar to the one in eastern Ukraine technical surveillance by Tallinn means a quicker sounding of alarm. As in the Ukraine case the Kremlin could claim that it is acting to protect a Russian minority in Estonia.

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UKRAINE FINANCE MINISTRY: KYIV SECURES DEBT-RELIEF DEAL

August 29, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2015, reported that Ukraine’s private creditors have accepted a 20% write-down on the face value of their Ukrainian bonds. Excerpts below:

Ukraine said August 27, 2015, that it had secured a debt-relief deal with its creditors, a vital step toward unlocking billions of dollars in emergency financing, after months of stalemate threatened to derail its international bailout.

The agreement, which requires approval by Ukraine’s parliament, is a major success for the pro-Western government as it seeks to push through a series of politically tough economic overhauls and nurse its fragile economy to health.

But the simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country continues to exact a toll on government finances, and the debt relief by no means assures economic viability for a country that has long been struggling to stay afloat.

Averting a financial tailspin in the country of 45 million people has been a priority in Washington and European capitals, which have sought to buttress the government in Kiev against an increasingly confrontational Russia.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged creditors to move swiftly to complete the restructuring, calling it critical to Ukraine’s future prosperity. “A strong, stable Ukraine is in the interests of Ukraine’s citizens, Ukraine’s neighbors, its international partners, and investors,” Mr. Lew said.

According to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry, private creditors including U.S. mutual fund Franklin Templeton Investments agreed to a 20% write-down in the face value of their Ukrainian bonds, and to push back maturities on government debt by four years.

The hryvnia currency rose more than 3% against the dollar, and Ukraine’s central bank lowered its key interest rate to 27% from 30%, citing reduced inflation risks just minutes after the deal was announced.

Ukraine’s bonds jumped by about 18%. The price of two-year notes increased to more than 66 cents, from 56 cents, according to data from Tradeweb, the highest level since January.

Under the bailout terms, Ukraine needed to secure $15 billion-worth of debt relief, including interest payments, from its international creditors, as well as pass the economic measures, to release the rest of the promised $25 billion in rescue money from the International Monetary Fund, Europe and the U.S.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde welcomed the deal and said Ukraine should meet the debt targets outlined in the bailout program—but only if all the Eurobond holders participated.

The conflict [with Russia] has destroyed critical infrastructure, fueled a deep recession, pushed the currency into a nose-dive, depleted emergency cash reserves and forced acute budget belt-tightening.

Besides the IMF, Kiev has the backing of Washington, the European Union and other Western allies who see Ukraine as a decisive geopolitical battleground to fend off the advances of an increasingly aggressive Russia.

After months of impasse, negotiations appeared to accelerate in late July, with both sides offering to make concessions. Prospects of a resolution were given a boost last month when Ukraine met the deadline for a $120 million coupon payment on its two-year bonds.

The turning point, said Ms. Jaresko, came…at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency hotel two weeks ago,…

After leaving San Francisco, the parties spent two more tense weeks thrashing out details.

The agreement is a welcome relief also for other holders of Ukraine debt, who have been following the negotiations from the sidelines. The measures will apply to all the country’s outstanding debt.

Also on August 27, 2015, Wall Street Journal reported that Ukraine’s US-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko is praised for her persistence. She was personally involved in securing the debt-relief deal. Excerpts below:

After announcing a deal to help stave off bankruptcy at a government meeting Thursday, Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko received an unusual gift from her fellow ministers: a painted artillery shell casing.

Ms. Jaresko, a 50-year-old American who but only recently became a Ukrainian citizen, was being hailed as the hero of the battle to save the economy, one being waged at the same time as the country fights pro-Russian separatists in its east.

The finance minister led months of tense negotiations with private creditors, clocking thousands of miles flying from Eastern Europe to the U.S. to persuade them to accept a 20% write-down on the face value of their bonds and later repayment. The deal should help Ukraine secure further bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Jaresko, born into a Ukrainian diaspora family in Illinois, arrived in Kiev two decades ago as one of a handful of diplomats charged with opening the U.S. Embassy. She later moved into the private sector, eventually co-founding the Horizon Capital private-equity fund in 2006, which focused on the region.

It was only after a revolution last year swept Ukraine’s pro-Russian president out of power that Ms. Jaresko contemplated another stint in government.

In December, President Petro Poroshenko tapped her to run the Finance Ministry, a post with notorious bureaucracy, corruption and near-empty coffers—all for a salary equal to $300 a month.

Ms. Jaresko, who speaks Ukrainian, is no stranger to the difficulties of making the case for the country: Colleagues at Horizon Capital say she spent the first year at the fund in hundreds of meetings, traveling thousands of miles to follow up on the slightest flicker of investor interest in Ukrainian assets.

Comments: This is welcome news. This blog has long argued that securing Ukraine as a state is more important than supporting Greece, although financial stability is important in both cases. Ms. Jaresko has proven to be an effective Minister of Finance and the present deal could be a turning point for Ukraine. A financially strong Ukraine is a must when taking on Russia.

LOST PALACE OF SPARTA POSSIBLY UNCOVERED

August 29, 2015

Fox News on August 28, 2015, reported that an ancient Greek palace filled with cultic objects and clay tablets written in a lost script may be the long-lost palace of Mycenaean Sparta, one of the most famous civilizations of ancient Greece.

The 10-room complex, called Ayios Vassileios, was filled with striking artifacts, including fragments of ornate murals, a cultic cup with a bull’s head, a seal emblazoned with a nautilus and several bronze swords. The palace, which burnt to the ground in the 14th century B.C., also contained several tablets written in Linear B script, the earliest known form of written Greek, the Greek Ministry of Culture said in a statement. The ancient palace was uncovered about 7.5 miles away from the historical Sparta that arose centuries later.

The discovery could shed light on a mysterious period in the history of the Mycenaean civilization, the Bronze Age culture that mysteriously collapsed in 1200 B.C. Excerpts below:

The Mycenaeans, whose culture likely inspired Homer’s epics “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” rose to prominence in 1700 B.C. The civilization left behind gorgeous palaces, tombs laden with treasures and a trove of clay tablets holding text in Linear B, which was deciphered in the 1950s.

In one of history’s enduring mysteries, the culture disappeared 500 years later and Greece entered a mini-dark age.

Though archaeologists have a fairly clear picture of the late Mycenaean culture up to around 1200 B.C., they knew relatively little about the centuries beforehand. Then in 2009, archaeologists uncovered the remains of an ancient site that was first erected in the 17th century B.C., according to the statement. The entire complex was likely destroyed in a fire a few hundred years later.

The ruins, which are on a low hill on a Spartan plain that is dotted with olive trees, include what is likely the palace archive. At the time, administrators of the political bureaucracy kept temporary records on unbaked clay tablets, which would then be recycled after a short period, such as a year, said Hal Haskell, an archeologist who studies the ancient Mycenaean culture at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

Though the conflagration destroyed the palatial complex, it also fired the clay tablets, baking the Linear B text into permanence.

A second structure on the site preserved fragments of ancient murals, while a sanctuary east of the courtyard included cultic religious objects, such as ivory idols and figurines, a rhyton, or drinking vessel, with a bull’s head on it, large newts and many decorative gems.

Sparta was an important site in the Mycenaean period but yet no one had found a palace in the Spartan plain, certainly not one that matched the grandeur of the palaces of Pylos and Mycenae. The new site could be that lost Spartan palace, Haskell told Live Science, [where the discovery was first reported].

The find is “hugely significant,” Torsten Meissner, a classicist at the University of Cambridge in England… All of the other famous sites Homer mentioned in his epics have been discovered. “Mycenaean, or Bronze Age, Sparta was the last ‘big prize,'” Meissner said.

The early evidence of Linear B tablets at the palace could also force scholars to rethink the time and place where Linear B developed. Historians used to think that Linear B derived from an elusive, still undecipherable text used by the enigmatic Minoan culture known as Linear A, which developed on the island of Crete. The new Linear B tablets at Ayios Vassileios were from 100 years earlier than the next oldest tablets, and given that there is a Minoan settlement near the new Spartan palace, scholars may need to rethink where that language transfer occurred, Meissner said.

Comments: The discovery of the palace in Sparta reminds us that the teaching of Western civilization starts with the the Greeks. It is important to remember that European civilization was not created in the space of a few centuries; the roots are deeper – by six thousand years in the words of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. It is crucial to remember that the first Western individuals belonged to aristocrats, identifiable characters that lived according to an ethic of individual glory. They had entered Greece most likely from the Pontic steppes, the pathway between Asia and Europe. It was the Mycenaeans who came into Greece who managed to Indo-Europeanize Greece. They created a new type of society where it was possible to strive for personal recognition. These horse-riders had a dynamic economy including ox-drawn wheeled wagons, cattle rearing, and ploughs, a healthier diet combining meat and dairy products. It is perhaps time to reconsider the primordial origins of the West. Are they to be sought in irrational heroic spirit of the ancient Indo-Europeans rather than in the rational spirit of historic Greeks? The newly discovered palace near Sparta may provide some answers.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: HOW MY PRESIDENCY WOULD DEAL WITH CHINA

August 28, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2015, published a commentary by Senator Marco Rubio on China. He wrote that over the past week, we have been dealt a painful reminder of just how important U.S. policy toward China is in the 21st century. …due largely to a crash in China’s stock market, U.S. markets suffered their worst day in four years. Insecurity and anxiety about the future—already high for American families—climbed even higher. It was a jarring illustration of how globalization is changing the U.S. economy. Excerpts below:

China presents both opportunities and challenges. Trade with its growing middle class has opened American businesses to hundreds of millions of new customers. But Beijing’s protectionist economic and trade policies increasingly endanger America’s financial well-being. China is also a rising threat to U.S. national security. Earlier this year, it was behind the largest cyberattack ever carried out against the United States.

President Obama has continued to appease China’s leaders despite their mounting aggression. In addition to his insufficient responses to economic and national-security concerns, he has ignored the Chinese government’s mass roundups of human-rights advocates, oppression of religious minorities, detention of political dissidents, ever-tightening controls on the Internet, and numerous other human-rights violations. He has hoped that being more friendly with China will make it more responsible. It hasn’t worked.

…President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington next week should not be canceled, but rather downgraded to a working visit from a state visit. This is an opportunity to speak bluntly to this authoritarian ruler and achieve meaningful progress, not to treat him to a state dinner.

If elected U.S. president next fall, I will approach China on the basis of strength and example, not weakness and appeasement.

My first goal will be to restore America’s strategic advantage in the Pacific.

We cannot continue to allow our military readiness to atrophy while China’s strengthens. My presidency will begin with an end to defense sequestration and a restoration of the Pentagon’s budget to its appropriate level. This will allow us to neutralize China’s rapidly growing capabilities in every strategic realm, including air, sea, ground, cyber space and even outer space.

Restoring America’s strategic strength in Asia will also require reinforcing ties with allies in the region. Under my presidency, the U.S. will conduct joint freedom of navigation exercises with these nations to challenge any Chinese attempts to close off international waters or airspace. And if China continues to use military force to advance its illegitimate territorial claims, as it has in the South China Sea and elsewhere, I will not hesitate to take action. I will also promote collaboration among our allies, as America cannot and need not bear the full burden of counterbalancing China’s power.

My second goal is protecting the U.S. economy. For years, China has subsidized exports, devalued its currency, restricted imports and stolen technology on a massive scale.

[I will] move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements.

I will also recognize that in the 21st century, national and economic security both depend on cybersecurity. No longer will China hack U.S. corporate or government servers with ease and without consequence.

Under my presidency, Beijing will not receive a free pass on human rights. I will instruct all U.S. officials meeting with their Chinese counterparts to demand the unconditional release of political prisoners. I will impose visa bans on Chinese officials who violate human rights. I will do all I can to empower Chinese citizens to breach what has been called the Great Firewall of China, and gain accurate news and information online about their country and the world.

…to achieve a new era of productive relations between our nations, America must stand on the side of the Chinese people rather than their autocratic rulers. Americans must elect a president willing to lead with strength and by example. A strong America—militarily, economically and morally—is the only path to lasting peace and partnership between the U.S. and China.

Mr. Rubio, a Republican U.S. senator from Florida, is running for his party’s presidential nomination.

Comment: Senator Marco Rubio’s statement in WSJ should be welcome to all in the West who cherish freedom, security and democracy. In the commentary Rubio outlines important steps to check Chinese power growth. His proposed policy if elected president in 2016 gives hope not only to the allies of the United States in the Pacific but also to the Chinese people in mainland China. In a coming free and democratic China the people will achieve much greater prosperity than now. Chinese culture can prosper in a climate of freedom when the voters can freely elect their government.

A FORWARD US CHINA STRATEGY

August 27, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 26, 2015, published a commentary by Aaron Friedberg on US China strategy. The Obama administration is evidently divided over how to respond to provocative Chinese actions in cyberspace and the South China Sea. Intelligence community leaders warn that unless the U.S. retaliates, it will continue to face damaging computer network attacks of the sort China appears to have carried out against the Office of Personnel Management. Yet the administration has refused even to identify China as the culprit in the theft of over 20 million sensitive personal files. Excerpts below:

Regarding the South China Sea, similarly, the Navy favors taking a tough stance, challenging China’s claims of sovereignty by sending ships and planes close to the artificial “islands” that Beijing has created by dredging sand from the ocean bottom.

These disputes involve disagreements over tactics, but they are also the latest indications of an intensifying debate over the future of America’s long-standing, two-part strategy for dealing with Beijing.

For a quarter century successive administrations have sought to engage China through trade and diplomacy. They hoped to give its rulers a stake in the existing liberal international order while reinforcing tendencies—especially the growth of a new middle class—that could lead to democratizing political reforms.

Engagement and balancing were supposed to work hand in hand, but recent events have begun to raise questions about both halves of this strategy. Thanks in no small measure to its economic ties with the U.S., China has grown far richer and stronger since the end of the Cold War. Instead of liberalizing, however, its politics have become more repressive and more militantly nationalistic.

To help consolidate power at home, the regime has more openly challenged key elements of the existing order in Asia. China’s increasingly forceful attempts to assert its claims over most of the waters and resources off its shores are only the most visible manifestation of this tendency.

Beijing has also intensified its opposition to U.S. alliances and begun to build new institutions and infrastructure networks designed to enhance its influence at America’s expense. Mr. Xi’s declaration that Asia’s affairs should be left to “the people of Asia” makes clear his vision for a region in which the U.S. presence has dramatically diminished and in which China will finally be able to emerge as the preponderant power.

Thus U.S. engagement has so far failed to transform China into a liberal democracy or even a “responsible stakeholder” in the existing international system.

The modernization and expansion of China’s nuclear and conventional “anti-access/area-denial” forces is beginning to raise doubts about the ability of the U.S. to defend its allies by projecting power into the Western Pacific. Beijing’s growing air, naval and maritime forces are giving it new options for enforcing territorial claims.

…in the U.S. government decisions are taken on a piecemeal, case-by-case basis with little attempt to take a longer view, reexamine existing assumptions or integrate policy across various domains. High-level attention is fleeting, short-term considerations dominate and marginal adjustments are the order of the day.

Post-Cold War policy toward China has never been the product of a comprehensive strategic planning process or a serious, presidential-level interagency review.

Whoever is elected president in 2016 should therefore begin with a frank assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach and conduct an open-minded examination of the potential costs, benefits and risks of available alternatives. This process could be modeled on the 1953 Solarium Project, in which the newly elected Eisenhower administration organized teams of government and private-sector experts to explore the economic, technological, military and diplomatic implications of different approaches toward the Soviet Union.

Mr. Friedberg, who served as a national-security adviser to the U.S. vice president from 2003 to 2005, is a professor at Princeton University.

Comment: The article by Mr. Friedberg is important. The Putin aggression in Europe against Ukraine since 2014 has created a new Cold War climate. History since 1917 has clearly shown that communist regimes do not liberalize. These regimes loose power if they loosen the grip.

The US pivot to Asia has to be strengthened. The West now has two great semi-totalitarian regimes to cope with. Only a new president in 2016, who can manage a forward strategy both for Russia and China, will be able to guarantee freedom and security. The Eisenhower Solarium Project of 1953 is a useful model for a new strategic approach.

US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES RIP CHINA

August 26, 2015

Fox News on August 25, 2015, reported that the Wall Street rollercoaster over China’s economic convulsions has seized the attention of 2016 presidential candidates, who are using the chaos to send a tough message to Beijing – and ridicule the White House over plans to host and toast President Xi Jinping at a state visit next month. Excerpts below:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went so far as to demand the cancellation of Xi’s upcoming visit, saying President Obama “should focus on holding China accountable over its increasing attempts to undermine U.S. interests” through cyberattacks and “state interference” in its own economy.

“There’s serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations,” Walker said in a statement.

…the shock from the August 24 slide was enough to bring China to the forefront of a race that has focused intensely on illegal immigration and other issues in recent weeks. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump was among the first to jump on the China-related market chaos, pointing to the turbulence as proof the U.S. is too tangled up with China’s economy.

Trump has long focused on China’s currency manipulation and trade dominance, even before he entered the race, and the market volatility has allowed him to return to that message on the campaign trail.
“We’re tying ourselves so closely to Asia … and not only now have they taken our jobs and they are taking our base and they have taken our manufacturing, but now they are pulling us down with them,” Trump told Fox News. “Now it’s gotten to a point they have devalued their currency to take even more from us.”

He noted the currency devaluation has helped China compete to make far cheaper goods, but they’ve also “built a monster bubble” along the way.
Trump, too, rapped Obama for the state visit plans.

“I would not be throwing [Xi] a dinner. … I would get him a McDonald’s hamburger and say … we have to get down to work because you can’t continue to devalue,” he said.

The unrest in the markets is tied to investor worries over the prospect of a slump in the world’s second-biggest economy.

This year, the International Monetary Fund expects China’s economy to grow 6.8 percent, which would be its weakest peace since 1990. China is trying to engineer a daunting transition — from overheated growth based on exports and often-wasteful investment to slower growth built on consumer spending.

The latest trouble started Aug. 11, when Beijing unexpectedly devalued China’s currency, the yuan. Skeptics worried that the devaluation was instead a desperate move to bail out China’s struggling exporters.

The two economies have become even more closely linked in recent years. China’s holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds rose from $740 billion in 2009 to nearly $1.3 trillion as of June. Total trade with China has grown from $366 billion in 2009 to nearly $591 billion in 2014.

…Trump wasn’t the only presidential candidate warning of China’s influence.

“If the Chinese get a cough, we get the flu,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire Monday, saying the economies are closely intertwined and the U.S. owes too much debt to China.

Carly Fiorina, who often cites her business background as former HP CEO, told Fox Business Network she had actually been expecting a “correction” in the markets, blaming both the American and Chinese economies.

“There’s no doubt that China has some real issues in front of it and the devaluation of the yuan as well as the huge selloff in their markets spell trouble ahead, so I think it’s justified,” she said, while also questioning the
Federal Reserve’s meddling in the economy.

Like Trump, Fiorina argued the U.S. actually has leverage over China.

“The truth is that we are the biggest single contributor to Chinese growth. We are their largest market. Our companies have provided technology for them which have helped lift people out of poverty,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Comment: The recent Chinese economic problems indicate that the US has to deal with influence of Peking not only in the United States but also Chinese global strategy. The pivot to Asia is important and China ought to play a larger role in the 2016 campaign.

U.S. TO DEPLOY F-22 FIGHTER JETS TO REASSURE EAST EUROPEAN ALLIES

August 25, 2015

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty on August 25, 2015, reported, based on AP and Reuters news, that the United States will deploy F-22 fighter jets to Europe soon to support Eastern European members of the NATO alliance unnerved by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said on August 24.

“Russia’s military activity in the Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to our European allies,” James told a news conference at the Pentagon. “For the Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin.”

Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh James said the F-22’s inaugural deployment in Europe would allow U.S. forces to train with NATO partners across Europe, testing the ability of the jets to communicate and fight together with the Eurofighter and other advanced warplanes.

Comment: This is good news but more of the same is needed. Starting with Poland there is a great need for new NATO bases in Eastern Europe from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south all along the Russian border. Several divisions are kept ready by the Kremlin in western Russia. To the new bases in eastern Europe more defensive weapons need to be delivered to Ukraine.

RUSSIA TOP THREAT TO THE WEST

August 24, 2015

In a US Senate hearing in July 2015 US Army General Mark Milley joined other top military leaders in naming Russia as the main threat the U.S. faces today.

General Milley said:

Russia is the only country on earth that contains a nuclear capability that could destroy the United States. It’s an existential threat to the United States, so it has capability. Intent, I don’t know; but the activity of Russia since 2008 has been very, very aggressive.

Asked about the military’s ability to operate in Europe amid the growing Russian threat, Gen. Milley said he thought the U.S. military needed to increase ground forces on a temporary rotational basis to provide better deterrence.

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford during the hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee said:

My assessment today is that Russia poses the greatest threat to our national security. If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.

Congress authorized the administration to provide lethal aid to Ukraine in 2014, but President Obama — who ridiculed Republican rival Mitt Romney during a 2012 presidential debate for calling Russia the greatest threat to American security — has declined so far to use that authorization to arm Ukrainians.

General Milley said he would support providing defensive lethal aid to Ukraine.

Air Force General Paul Selva, also placed Russia at the top of his list of threats. He put the Islamic State and other al Qaeda-inspired groups at the bottom of the list.

General Milley named top threats as China, North Korea, the Islamic State and Iran, but did not place them in a specific order.

Russia’s aggressiveness has naturally worried European NATO members. On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS Radek Sikorski, former foreign minister of Poland, said on August 23, 2015 (excerpts below):

President Putin spoke of Ukraine as an artificial country already at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008. And as we know, some of those plans in Georgia, for Crimea, for Ukraine, had been laid down before. President Putin has – had largely misspent the oil boom’s money, but he has invested heavily in his armed forces. And we are now seeing the results of that.

…what I think we should do is, first of all, is to convince President Putin that the NATO area is out of bounds for Russian military adventurism.

Secondly, I would try to convince President Putin that if he moves further into Ukraine, he will face a prolonged conflict that he cannot win.

… thirdly, I think we should persuade him that time is not working in his favor – that Ukraine is reforming itself, whereas the conflict is costing Russia too much, and then I believe he might be – might be willing to make a deal and withdraw from the occupation of Ukraine.

Ideally, we need a process in which the European Union and the United States should participate that would fix all of the frozen conflicts on the former Soviet periphery – so Transnistria, Caucuses and a couple of others.

Asked if there should be a forward NATO base in Poland Sikorski answered:

Well, there are NATO bases in Britain, in Germany, in Spain, in Portugal, in Italy, in Turkey and your generals are saying, one after another, that the actual threat is from the East. So where do you think our major bases should be? I guess where they are needed, huh?

Comments: In February 2014 Russia invaded Crimea and annexed it as Russian territory. Moscow is supporting Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and has strong forces (maybe 50,000 men) standing by for possible invasion of Ukraine.

NATO military presence in all the way from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south is needed. Poland, a strong supporter of a continued free and independent Ukraine, is in great need of a major NATO base on its territory. The Western alliance need to strengthen more extensive NATO presence also in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria. President Obama should soonest provide defensive lethal aid to Ukraine, which in 2015 is geopolitically of greater importance than Greece. Also financial aid to Ukraine is necessary. This European country’s pro-Western spirit needs to be kept alive. In 2013 the Ukrainian people expressed a strong will to be part of a united Europe from the Atlantic to the Russian border. Strong support is also called for countries like Moldavia, Georgia and Armenia, which all want closer ties to the European Union.

THINKING ABOUT CHINESE REGIME CHANGE

August 22, 2015

August 2015 has been a time of trouble for China’s regime. Devaluation and falling values on the Chinese stock market is only one aspect. Then there are the deadly explosions at a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in Tianjin that killed over a hundred people, cost billions of dollars, and have raised serious questions about China’s industrial safety and emergency preparedness. Local land and waterways may be polluted for years to come.

Even if one cannot compare the Soviet Union in the 1980s and China in 2015 there are signs of trouble on the Chinese mainland. The long term American policy should be is to aid a democratic takeover in Beijing. This can be undertaken in many ways without damaging the present relations with China.

One way is to contributing to weakening the China communist party elite by putting sanctions on overseas bank accounts, properties, travel, and children of the political elite. The Chinese come to the United States for more than education. A targeted campaign of sanctions against China’s rich and their children is one way to promote the growth of democracy on in China.

Another democracy building effort could be to identify and help young freedom minded leaders of China. They could be brought to the United States on study tours and they could be encouraged to form networks with counterparts in America. Agents of change in the Chinese leaderships should be encouraged not only in America but in the rest of the West.

The great American advantage of world leading information and cultural influence and intelligence ought to be put to better use. Corruption and misdeeds in China ought to be better monitored and tracked. If the information is spread as widely as possible this would weaken the Communist party hold over China. When corruption and misdeed in Peking is better known in the West this information will after a while spread also in China. Information is knowledge-power and power of the people.

PENTAGON: CHINA’S MAN MADE ISLANDS NOW COVERS THOUSANDS OF ACRES

August 22, 2015

Fox News on August 22, 2015, reported that China has built up and reclaimed even more land in the South China Sea than previously thought — with an archipelago of man-made islands now spanning 2,900 acres, according to a new Pentagon report released on August 21. Excerpts below:

The size of China’s artificial island territory in the disputed waters represents a 50 percent jump over the most recent estimate of 2,000 acres.

Since Chinese land reclamation efforts began in December 2013, the country has reclaimed land at seven of its eight Spratly Island outposts and, as of June 2015, had reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land, according to the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy report.

Before this year, defense officials thought Beijing had only reclaimed about 500 acres of landmass to build the artificial islands. However, the lands are now big enough for buildings and equipment. The Pentagon report warned the infrastructure would allow China to have a “more robust power projection” in the South China Sea. Citing China’s own statements the outposts “will have a military component,” the report also said China is completing the construction of an airstrip.

The report said China may, then, be able to use the outposts as an alternative airstrip for “carrier-based aircraft,” allowing China “to conduct sustained operations with aircraft carriers in the area.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. military called the project “extensive,” involving China “pumping sand on to live coral reefs” and then paving over them with concrete.

The Defense Department warns the outposts can be used for surveillance systems, harbors and logistical support.

U.S. officials fear the islands could be used for military purposes and may pose a threat to one of the world’s biggest commercial shipping routes as China claims land in what other countries see as international waters, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Defense officials also believe China’s assertiveness poses a risk of possible confrontation down the line with the U.S.

The U.S. has repeatedly questioned whether Beijing had ceased the land reclamation projects, as it claimed earlier this month. Chinese embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan told The Wall Street Journal on August 20 the projects stopped in June and the facilities being built on the islands include those for public good.

China has also increased patrols on the disputed areas to “increase its effective control” over the islands, according to the report.

The latest moves from China have some U.S. military officials pushing the Pentagon to be more aggressive in countering China in the region. They’ve wanted more assertive maritime and air patrols to fly within the 12 nautical mile territorial limit of some of the disputed lands China claims, according to The Wall Street Journal.

On August 20, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the military would go where and when it wanted, but it remained unclear whether they’ve flown within the 12 nautical mile zone of the islands.