Publicat în 8 martie 2017, 21:04 / 490 elite & idei

Antonia Colibasanu: February Geopolitical Strategic Focus

Antonia Colibasanu: February Geopolitical Strategic Focus

by Antonia Colibasanu

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis participated for the first time to a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Feb. 16. He took the opportunity to explain, on that occasion, as well as during the Munich Security Conference that followed the NATO gathering, the U.S. position on NATO. This is not the first time that the U.S. is criticizing NATO’s evolution. But because of the current change in the U.S. administration and the topic having been discussed during the American presidential campaign, not only the criticism became sharper but it is also taken more seriously. Washington’s position is that while the U.S. will continue to carry on responsibilities and respect its promises, NATO members need to become allies – in the true sense of the meaning. [An assessment on how NATO has been evolving here.] During the NATO meeting in Brussels, the member states countries representatives have also discussed the Alliance’s role in the fight against terrorism and agreed on creating a new regional Hub for the South flank, based at the NATO’s Joint Force Command in Naples. Progress on the deployment of new deterrent forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland was also addressed. [More details on the February NATO meeting here.]The U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis discussed with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık during their trip to Europe. A day after the meetings, the Turkish foreign minister said at the Munich Security Conference that Turkey has asked for more U.S. Special Forces in Syria. He added that the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford was in Ankara and discussed “technical issues” related to a potential deployment. This marks a potential shift of the U.S. Turkish policy towards the U.S. [A detailed analysis on why that might be so is included here.]

Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic proposed the creation of a Western Balkan customs union during his meeting with Austria’s Federal Chancellor Christian Kern on Feb. 17, while discussing about improving the regional infrastructure. He added that he had consultations with the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic on the idea. The Central Europe Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) has helped the countries in Eastern Europe as it encouraged trade between the member states and helped them focus their work towards the common goal of EU integration. Vucic’s idea is supported by the fact that states in the region face similar challenges and they are all aiming to get EU membership. His call is, however, rare in the Balkans. His idea is difficult to put into practice considering the constant tensions between the states in the region. Just on Feb. 16, the Albanian and Croatian defense ministers sent a letter to NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in which they condemned Serbian officials’ nationalist rhetoric regarding the recent events in northern Kosovo, supporting the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into the Armed Forces of Kosovo. On the other hand, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has also accused the Kosovan authorities of wanting to start a war. While such declarations serve diplomatic purposes, it is unlikely that the status quo will change and therefore neither the defense ministers’ accusations nor Serbian Prime Minister’s idea of creating a Western Balkans customs union have geopolitical relevance on the short term.

The EU member states approved on Feb. 18 a Commission proposal to invest €444 million in priority European energy infrastructure projects which would further strengthen European energy security. Among the projects funded: Germany’s SuedLink project that aims at getting about 700 km of high voltage cables fully underground, linking between the wind power generated in the north and the consumer centres in the south of the country and beyond; Northern Ireland compressed air energy storage (CAES) in Larne which aims at facilitating the large-scale penetration of renewables into the energy market; a Slovenian-Croatian smart grid program aiming at increasing energy efficiency for both countries while coping with the uptake of additional renewable energy and the Croatian off-shore LNG terminal on the Croatian island of Krk. Looking at the projects enlisted, it is visible that the EU funding is supporting technological progress in existing infrastructures while maintaining its preference for alternative energy sources to the conventional ones. In the same time, the EU has awarded €2.5 million for Montenegro and Albania to prepare a joint plan for the construction of the Ionian-Adriatic gas pipeline (IAP) which will be an extension to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) gas project. The work on such a project would begin in the second quarter of the year according to Montenegrin economy ministry. The total investment for IAP is estimated at €618 million and, according to the memorandum of understanding that Albania, Montenegro and Croatia signed with Azerbaijani state-oil company SOCAR last year, the pipeline would be 511km long. All this suggests a pragmatic preoccupation of both Brussels and the nation states in South Eastern Europe to increase the region’s energy security, which ultimately contributes to building positive development for the European energy markets.

The WTO’s latest report on World Trade Outlook Indicator (WTOI) – the organization leading indicator of world trade, which is designed to provide „real time” information on the trajectory of merchandise trade three to four months ahead of trade volume statistics, signals an improvement for global trade flow in the first quarter of 2017. This is however supported by a raise in air freight, automobile sales, export orders and container shipping while industry related merchandise, electronics and agricultural raw materials trade remain below trend. Trade growth would be beneficial for Europe and in particular for Germany. [A detailed analysis on how shipping and trade are affecting the German economy here.]

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