By Pierre Noel, Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow in Economic and Energy Security
In the Baltic states, energy security remains perceived as a truly serious issue. It’s seen as a question of survival rather than, as it is in much of the world, merely an exciting topic for after-dinner speeches. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania depend entirely on Russia for their gas supply and have complicated political relationships with Moscow. Recent numerical indicators of gas-supply security – including my own – show that the Baltics are among the least secure countries in Europe. Therefore they want to invest in gas-supply security.
The European Commission encourages them to do so, but has precise ideas about how it should be done: it has made subsidies contingent on the building of joint regional infrastructure. Brussels’ dream however, although aggressively pursued since 2009, has failed to materialise. In fact, Baltic gas-security cooperation faces serious political and even legal hurdles. Steps already taken have managed to infuriate Russia without improving the Baltic states’ ability to cope with supply disruptions in any way.
Therefore it is important to know if Baltic cooperation is absolutely needed, simply desirable or just one solution among others to improve Baltic gas-supply security.
By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme
UK prime minister David Cameron has prompted a small resurgence of the UK’s nuclear debate by publishing a letter in The Daily Telegraph on April 3, asserting that the country must maintain and renew its nuclear deterrent system in the face of global instability. But the debate should not end there: as discussed in a recent IISS panel on the subject, the UK must consider the costs of replacing the deterrent and the resulting effects on its conventional military capabilties. No less importantly, it also needs to take into account the implications renewing its nuclear deterrent might have on global non-proliferation efforts.
In his letter, which coincides with the 100th patrol of the four Vanguard-class submarines that carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles, Cameron argued that retaining an independent nuclear deterrent is now more important than ever. He contends that ‘the nuclear threat has not gone away … in terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased’. He also warned that ‘there is real risk of new nuclear-armed states emerging’.
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor
It was, several older colleagues told me, one of the most thought-provoking discussions they had heard at the institute. With Britain’s ageing Trident nuclear deterrent in the news again – as defence cuts bite and a divided coalition government reviews the options for a replacement system – four of the United Kingdom’s most respected former civil servants came to Arundel House last week and delivered a one-and-half-hour masterclass in nuclear policy.
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor
The US ‘reset’ towards Russia during the first Obama administration had created ‘dividends for European security’, the IISS’s new senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia told an audience in London this week – even if this positive effect was underappreciated. However, relations with Russia in Obama’s second term would be complicated by Vladimir Putin’s recent return to the presidency and Putin’s less apparent warmth towards Washington than predecessor Dmitry Medvedev.
The institute’s Ben Barry has contributed to a piece published by the BBC today, asking how recently announced defence cuts will shape the British Army of the future. The restructured force will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2017, while the number of reservists will double to 30,000.
Brigadier Barry, who left the army in October 2010, calls it the ‘most radical reorganisation for 50 years’.
‘The Army 2020 design [as the plan is called] displays many innovative ideas and structures,’ he writes, ‘reflecting many hard lessons of the Iraq and Afghan wars and the likely challenges of future land operations, particularly fighting “hybrid” enemies and the increasing requirement for urban operations.
Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.
But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Elysee Treaty – the document signed by Paris and Berlin in an attempt to turn two hostile neighbours and rivals into allies, and to ultimately lay the groundwork for the European Union. As IISS Chairman Francois Heisbourg points out in the Financial Times, it comes at a time of strain in the Franco-German partnership.
France’s Le Monde newspaper has already been very dismissive about the scheduled joint session of the French and German parliaments in Berlin’s Reichstag building today. Heisbourg writes that: ‘From the eurozone crisis to intervention in Libya and Mali, and the failed merger of EADS and BAE Systems, the differences and tensions between Paris and Berlin are palpable.’
He admits that shaping a joint strategic future takes time, but says that France and Germany have recently lost the will to overcome other national differences – a process aided by their shifting relative strength, the expansion of the EU, and the arrival of a new generation of leaders ‘who no longer carry the historical baggage of the founding fathers’.
Yet the factor that could now have the biggest impact on France and Germany’s partnership is a third player: Britain.
Read the article at the Financial Times (subscription required)