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EU to ease military movement in face of Russia threat
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Nov 10, 2017

Dutch body warns NATO ill-equipped to defend members
The Hague (AFP) Nov 10, 2017 - NATO is poorly equipped to defend members against aggression amid uncertainty over its unity under US President Donald Trump, which could allow Russia to exploit vulnerabilities, a Dutch advisory body warned Friday.

"It is becoming doubtful whether NATO will act responsibly and unanimously when it comes to it. There is internal division in an increasing number of areas," said Joris Voorhoeve, chairman of the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV).

"Uncertainty about the political leadership of the United States under President Trump is accompanied by concerns about the alliance's unity," he added.

The warning comes in a report issued Friday by the body which advises the Dutch foreign ministry and the government on policy.

"NATO is insufficiently equipped for its core task: protecting members against aggression via a credible deterrent and collective defence," the AIV said in a statement.

The report calls on the 29-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), set up in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, to strengthen internal cohesion and work to improve transatlantic relations as "the United States remains indispensable for Europe's security".

From the founding of the alliance the United States has been its "political and military backbone," but since Trump took office in January there was been "a lack of leadership" by the Americans.

Europe's safety is under threat from "destabilising actions by Russia" and from the current instability in the Middle East, it concludes.

Regions such as the Baltics are currently not well protected, and Russia could seek to exploit such vulnerabilities, the report, entitled "The future of NATO and the security of Europe", warned.

It recommends that military units on the alliance's eastern flank in countries such as Lithuania and Poland "should be significantly strengthened" and NATO should consider deploying some kind of rotating brigade.

It also calls for the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles to allow military units and equipment to move more rapidly across borders if needed, by establishing what it called a "military Schengen" -- a reference to the EU's 26-nation borderless system.

Concerns have grown about the threat to the alliance's eastern region since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Nato is currently upgrading capabilities to combat a resurgent Russia, as part of the alliance's biggest shakeup since the Cold War, with defence ministers on Wednesday backing the creation of two new command centres to help protect Europe.

Member states also agreed at a meeting in Brussels to increase the use of cyber weaponry and tactics during military operations.

The European Union on Friday unveiled plans to make it easier to move troops and military equipment around the bloc, in a bid to boost defence in the face of the growing threat posed by Russia.

EU officials will look to streamline customs checks that are currently causing delays as well as reviewing infrastructure plans to make sure that roads, bridges and railways are able to carry heavy military equipment such as tanks.

Senior NATO commanders have warned that cumbersome border bureaucracy is hampering their ability to move resources quickly, which in turn reduces their capacity to provide a serious deterrent to potential aggression from Russia.

The need for military movement around Europe declined after the Cold War, but the Ukraine crisis and Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 has once again brought the threat from the east back into sharp focus.

European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said it was "high time" that military needs were once again taken into account in transport planning.

"The swift movement of military personnel and equipment is hindered by physical, legal and regulatory barriers," Bulc said.

"This creates inefficiencies in public spending, delays, disruptions, and above all a greater vulnerability."

- Upgrading infrastructure in the east -

A joint statement from EU members highlighted recent military exercises where customs problems and infrastructure limitations -- bridges not being able to support the weight of military vehicles, for instance -- had led to "delays, disruptions higher costs and increased vulnerability".

After an initial study period, the European Commission will propose an action plan by March 2018 for member states' endorsement.

NATO this week announced plans for a new logistics hub to improve the way it moves resources around Europe, but it needs the EU's help to improve transport networks.

Part of the work will be to assess transport links across Europe, particularly in formerly communist countries in the east, where NATO had no access during the Cold War.

"All the planning and visibility of infrastructure we had stops at the old internal German border," a NATO official said.

Once the Berlin Wall came down and eastern European countries joined the EU and NATO, there was seen to be no need to map the infrastructure and upgrade it for military use, the official explained.

Now a key priority for NATO is to ensure that equipment such as tanks can be moved quickly.

"Moving troops is very easy -- that's what Ryanair and EasyJet do every day by the thousands. What makes it difficult is the equipment, especially heavy equipment," the NATO official said.

A further complication is that many transport resources -- rail networks and ports in particular -- are now run by private businesses, making it harder to commandeer them for military use than when they were government-owned.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered troops to scrap plans of building a fishermen's shelter on a sandbar in the disputed South China Sea after Beijing complained, his defence chief said Wednesday. The military in August had brought bamboo and palm roofing materials to the sandbar near one of their garrisons in the Spratlys archipelago before the president's intervention, Defence Sec ... read more

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