US still hopeful over Turkey’s long-range SAM bid

A foreign-supplied Patriot missile launcher is pictured at a Turkish military base in Gaziantep in February 2013. NATO allies have stepped up pressure on Turkey to walk away from a deal to purchase an anti-missile system from China. Other bidders include the US, with the Patriot system, and Eurosam, which builds the Aster 30. (AFP/Getty Images)
A foreign-supplied Patriot missile launcher is pictured at a Turkish military base in Gaziantep in February 2013. NATO allies have stepped up pressure on Turkey to walk away from a deal to purchase an anti-missile system from China. Other bidders include the US, with the Patriot system, and Eurosam, which builds the Aster 30. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Turkish government and the country’s largest defense company are under increasing pressure from Turkey’s NATO allies to rethink a September decision to award a $3.44 billion air defense contract to a Chinese bidder.

Procurement officials have privately admitted that if Turkey finalizes the deal with the Chinese manufacturer, its entire defense cooperation effort with Western counterparts, including defense and non-defense companies, could be jeopardized.

“I think there is growing concern in Ankara over that deal,” one official familiar with the program said. “These concerns will definitely play a role in final decision-making, although they alone cannot be a reason to change course.”

Specifically, officials with Turkish company Aselsan are concerned that its connection to the deal could harm its corporate relations with Western banks.

In September, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC) to construct the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense system. The Turkish government said it opted for the Chinese solution based mainly on deliberations over price and technology transfer.

The Chinese contender defeated a US partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, offering the Patriot air defense system; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S-300; and Italian-French consortium Eurosam, maker of the Aster 30.

Turkish officials said if contract negotiations with CPMIEC fail, talks would be opened with the second-place finisher, Eurosam. Next in line would be the US bidder. The Russian option has been eliminated.

But NATO and US officials have said any Chinese-built system could not be integrated with Turkey’s joint air defense assets with NATO and the United States.

They also have warned that any Turkish company that may act as local subcontractor in the program would face serious US sanctions because CPMIEC is on a US list of companies to be sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.

US diplomats have said Turkish companies working on US products or technology could be subject to intense scrutiny, or requested to adopt stringent security measures to erect a wall between US technology-related activities and CPMIEC.

They said the sanctions would be imposed on any company or individual cooperating with the blacklisted companies, especially when the use of US technology is in question.

In December, Aselsan, potentially CPMIEC’s main Turkish partner in the contract, became the first casualty of the US sanctions. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a US investment bank, pulled out of a joint bid to advise Aselsan on its second listing on Istanbul’s stock exchange, citing Turkey’s contract negotiations with CPMIEC.

Aselsan’s management shrugged it off and said it would select another bank for the task.

But the procurement official said that Aselsan’s concern over corporate repercussions has increased.

“I think they now view the deal potentially punishing for the company,” he said.

One Aselsan official admitted that after Merrill Lynch’s pullout, the company has been in talks for the underwriting with two more international banks, Barclays and Goldman Sachs. Both have echoed the same concerns, pointing to possible US sanctions.

“The press reports over difficulties with these two banks are correct,” one Aselsan official confirmed on condition of anonymity. “Other investment banks do not look promising. We may wait for a better timing for the listing.”

The difficulties over a Chinese air and anti-missile defense architecture for NATO member Turkey also were discussed during French President François Hollande’s recent visit here.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who accompanied Hollande during the Jan. 27 visit, met with Murad Bayar, Turkey’s top defense procurement official.

“Inevitably, the program was discussed at the top level, with the French raising concerns and urging the Turkish government to rethink the deal,” one senior government official said.

Similarly, the same official said, the Americans are voicing their concerns on an almost daily basis through various channels.

He said he could not comment on how the diplomatic offensive is influencing the government’s decision.

The Turkish government has extended an end-of-January deadline for the US and European competitors to rebid for the contract.

The Turkish program consists of radar, launcher and interceptor missiles to counter enemy aircraft and missiles. Turkey has no long-range air defense system.

About half of Turkey’s network-based air defense picture has been paid for by NATO. The country is part of NATO’s Air Defense Ground Environment.

Without NATO’s consent, it will be impossible for Turkey to make the planned Chinese system operable with these assets, some analysts said.

US, nuclear allies prepare for B61 overhaul

The US has reportedly earmarked $10 billion to upgrade its “dumb” B61 tactical nuclear bombs with a newer, guided version dubbed B61-12.

B61 is a tactical nuclear warhead capable of delivering a pre-determined nuclear yield of up to 50 kilotons,  large enough to level a whole city. Under a nuclear sharing agreement, these warheads have been deployed to bases in Turkey, Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Various sources indicate the number of B61 warheads kept in Turkey to be around ninety, forty of which have been “assigned for host country use” under strict NATO supervision.

The B61-12 upgrade involves the installation of a modern INS navigation system that will enable a pilot to release the nuclear bomb with a much higher accuracy, making it unnecessary to use maximum yield to achieve a similar effect, minimizing unwanted collateral damage on the civilian population.

 

Turkey investigates use of chemicals in Syria

Turkey is testing blood  samples taken from Syrian casualties brought over the border  from fighting in recent days to determine whether they were  victims of a chemical weapons attack, local government and  health officials said on Wednesday.

The samples were sent to Turkey’s forensic medicine  institute after several Syrians with breathing difficulties were  brought to a Turkish hospital on Monday in the town of Reyhanli  in Hatay province along the Syrian border.

“We are taking the necessary precautions as we have received  unconfirmed information on the use of chemical weapons,”  Reyhanli Mayor Huseyin Sanverdi told Reuters.

“So far I have not received confirmation from medical  institutions but there is a possibility that the weapons were  used and we have to act with caution in case,” he said.

Sanverdi said the hospital in Reyhanli had taken emergency  measures on Monday following the claims but that those had now  been lifted. He added that Monday’s patients had been brought  from Idlib province in northern Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said there was  evidence that chemical weapons had been used during Syria’s two  year conflict, but that it was not yet known how the chemical  weapons were used, when they were used and who used them.

Washington has long said it views the use of chemical  weapons in Syria as a “red line”, but wary of the false  intelligence that was used to justify the 2003 war in Iraq, it  has said it wants proof before taking action.

Britain last week confirmed it had “limited but persuasive”  information showing chemical weapons use in Syria, including  sarin, evidence that the Foreign Office now says is  “physiological” – from the bodies of chemical attack victims.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was likely that Syria,  and not the rebels, would be behind any such attack, and Britain  added that it was working with the United Nations to harden up  evidence of whether chemical weapons had been used.

Fighting in Syria, now entering its third year, has  intensified in the last month with government forces attempting  to roll back rebel advances. Some 70,000 people have now been  killed in the civil war.

Each side has blamed the other for what they both said was a  chemical attack in the city of Saraqeb in Idlib on Monday.

EMERGENCY PLANS
A senior Reyhanli health official, who spoke on condition of  anonymity, confirmed Sanverdi’s statement, saying the hospital  carried out “emergency plans from time to time”.

One hospital employee, who also declined to be named,  described how the hospital had been sealed off into the night on  Monday, with specialised emergency medical teams moving in to  take over after 13 patients from Idlib were brought in.

“We were given special apparel but it was the emergency team  which took care of those patients. Doctors suspected sarin or  mustard gas because the patients had breathing difficulties,”  the employee said.

Another hospital employee said staff were ordered to stay  back while the team intervened.

“This cannot be without reason,” the second employee said.

Wassim Taha, a Syrian doctor from the Union of Syrian  Medical Relief Organisations which runs hospitals for the Syrian  opposition, said the patients were washed at the border because  doctors feared they had come into contact with a form of gas.

A second Syrian doctor, Ubada Alabrash, who helps treat  Syrian patients at Reyhanli hospital, said they also suspected  the patients had been victims of a chemical attack because those  escorting them to the border had exhibited similar symptoms.

Alabrash said blood samples from the patients had been sent  for tests but that they had not been given the results.

“I don’t think the Turkish government would hide the results  from us, but I understand they must be careful with it because  NATO and other international bodies are also involved in this  issue,” he said.

“Now we are waiting for the blood test results from Ankara,  we have asked to be informed. We can only say after the test  results if chemical weapons were used or not.”

Iran dismisses claims of military site clean-up

In this Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant is seen, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010. (AP photo)

Iran on Tuesday dismissed claims it was clearing away traces of suspected nuclear weapons research activities from a closed military site, saying the allegations were “propaganda”.

The sprawling Parchin military site, located 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Tehran, “is conducting normal military activities,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in a regular briefing. “Declarations about the cleaning up of nuclear traces from this site — and those who are technically savvy know you cannot remove traces of such activity from an area — these declarations are propaganda,” he said.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said early last week that satellite images suggested there were unspecified “ongoing” activities at the Parchin base. Western diplomats said they suspected Iran was removing evidence from the site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has focused suspicions on Parchin since receiving intelligence, outlined in a November report, that Iran may have been testing normal explosives in a big metal cylinder there with the aim of researching implosion triggers for an eventual nuclear bomb. Iran has twice this year refused requests by a visiting IAEA team to inspect Parchin. Although the IAEA inspected parts of Parchin two times in 2005, it says it did not see the area alleged to contain the explosives test cylinder.

Mehmanparast highlighted those 2005 visits and said Iran had accepted the “principle” of another visit, but that the IAEA should have been “more patient” in reaching agreement on the framework of such an inspection. Parchin will be one of the key issues in a new round of talks being prepared between Iran and world powers likely to take place in coming weeks. Last week, the group of nations to sit down with Iran — the so-called P5+1 comprising the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — issued a statement urging Iran to “fulfill its undertaking to grant access to Parchin.”

The talks will revive negotiations that broke down in Istanbul in January 2011. Iran, under pressure from sanctions and the threat of military strikes on its nuclear facilities, agreed on February 14 to a P5+1 proposal to resume the discussions and has indicated it again favoured Istanbul as the venue.

Mehmanparast, though, said “several countries have declared themselves ready” to host the talks, which he said should begin “soon”. He added that Iran stood by its view that uranium enrichment — one of the most contentious activities to be addressed — was permitted under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty supervised by the IAEA, as long as it was destined for peaceful nuclear use. “The level of enrichment for peaceful activities is a technical question, and experts can determine what level of enrichment is within a peaceful framework,” he said. Iran is currently enriching uranium to 3.5 percent, needed for nuclear energy generation, and to 20 percent, for isotopes to treat cancer patients.

Uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent or higher to make an atomic bomb. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last weekend warned that the West should drop its “bullying” stance against his country. “As God is my witness, the Iranian nation will not give a damn for (your) bombs, warships and planes,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday in the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

The United States and its EU allies “should talk politely, and recognise the rights of (other) nations, and cooperate instead of showing teeth, and weapons and bombs,” he said. Iran has repeatedly insisted its nuclear programme is purely for civilian purposes and has no military component. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called nuclear weapons a “sin”. Khamenei also praised US President Barack Obama’s recent comments cautioning against “bluster” in talking about possible war with Iran — although he also called US determination to press on with sanctions an “illusion”.

Davutoglu: NATO threatens neither Iran, nor Russia

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has given an interview to Interfax in the wake of negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in which he speaks about pressing international issues like Syria and Iran, as well as Turkish-Russian energy cooperation.

Question:At a press conference with Mr. Lavrov I noticed that you never mentioned that Turkey insists on Bashar Assad stepping down. Does this mean that Turkey still thinks that if Bashar Assad makes all the necessary reforms he can stay in power and he does not have to leave?

Answer:Syrian people will decide on this: who will be in power or who will not be in power, not us. But I think that who fights against his own people cannot have legitimacy. Therefore, the important thing is how Syrian people perceive the Syrian regime and President Bashar Assad. That is to decide for the people of Syria. The important thing is that Syrian people was not given the right to decide on this. Now the massacre must be stopped, the Syrian losses should be ending, and there should be no more attacks against civilians in the cities by the army, and full security and reforms should be together. That‘s our position. We ask Bashar Assad to listen to his own people.

Q.:If the Syrian crisis ends and Bashar Assad stays in power, will there be a possibility of improving relations…

A.:That is an ‘if-question‘. No president can stay if conflicting with his own people this scenario is impossible. Leaders and regimes an survive only if there is a support by the people of that country. Fighting against people and staying in power is not possible.

Q.:The Russian side has repeatedly insisted that the international community must do its best to stop violence either from the authorities of Syria and the armed opposition. Do you agree with this approach?

A.:Of course, the Syrian administration must stop using army against the people and should stop [] casualties and at the same time we always advise the Syrian opposition to express themselves people peacefully and using peaceful methods to express their demands. But the problem here is that the Syrian regime does not allow to demonstrate peacefully. That‘s the problem.

Q.:Turkish authorities have same contacts with a part of the Syrian opposition, it gives its territory for the Syrian opposition to meet and discuss the problems. Does Ankara has any relations with armed opposition in Syria?

A.:Turkey is democratic country. Everybody can met in Turkey. Even Syrian opposition meets in Turkey, even those who are supporting the Syrian regime meet in Turkey. Turkey is a free country, but we never supported any armed group in any country. Turkey has been a place where refugees, those who are escaping from oppression, can come to Turkey, and they are coming. There are 9,500 Syrian refugees staying in Turkey. They are our guests because they are our relatives and there are our ancestors escaping from oppression.

Q.:What do you think about the new EU sanctions on the Syrian regime? Do you think it will help to solve the problem?

A.:Unfortunately, the Syrian administration did not listen to our advice: the advice of its neighbors, like Turkey, the advice of Arab countries of the region and the advice of the international community, including Russia and others, for functioning the reform process and providing security to the civilians. This is the problem. Therefore, that is the Syrian administration responsibility to fulfill this.

Q.:Recently the EU has imposed an oil embargo on Iran. Ankara has good relations with Tehran. Is there any possibility that Turkey can increase supplements of Iranian oil to help Iran to go thorough this negative period?

A.:We have very good relations with Iran, and we have been working very hard for the negotiations with Iran within P5+1. This policy, Turkish policy, will continue in order to find a solution, peaceful solution to this issue. And of course the UN Security Council resolutions are binding, but other unilateral sanctions are not binding, and Turkish-Iranian economic relations will continue within the framework the international law.

Q.:Turkey is a NATO member. NATO does not hide that the target of its European anti-missile shield…

A.:There is no special reference to any special country regarding the missile defense issue.

Q.:But various politicians say…

A.:I do not see any NATO statement officially made by any NATO official declaring the name of any country as a threat or a target regarding the missile defense system.

Q.:Does Turkey think that Iran poses any nuclear threat to Europe?

A.:No. Not to us, Turkey. We do not see such a threat. We do not see any threat from any of our neighbors.

Q.:And what about Europe?

A.:That is not an issue for us. For us we do not see any threat. And NATO makes no reference to any country: neither to Iran, nor Russia.

Q.:You spoke today about the Turkish-French relations. Turkey said it will take some time in order to answer the French legislators who decided to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide. What measures you were talking about?

A.:Now we are waiting for the constitutional process to be finalized. There is an attempt by some members of the Senate to go to the Constitutional Council, and we will wait for the results of this process. If these effort do not produce a positive result, than everybody will see our measures, but at this moment we are expecting the results of this process.

Q.:As far as I understood that that your negotiations with Mr. Lavrov were a part of preparations for the Russia-Turkey summit. Is there any specific date and place of the summit?

A.:This summit is Turkish-Russian High Level Cooperation Council meeting, which is being held annually. Every year one meeting is of joint strategic planning committee, what we did today. The other part is the summit. We plan the meeting in the coming months, of course it will be after the election in Russia. Then we expect the date from our Russian counterparts, the most appropriate date in the following months after the election.

Q.:And it will be organized in Turkey?

A.:Yes, in Turkey.

Q.:The Turkish energy minister said that Turkey is ready to talks about some partnership on South Stream as we know Turkey is not a partner in this project. Now Turkey is not a partner, it only give its territory. What this will look like?

A.:We think that it was giving permission to the construction of South Stream in the Turkish economic zone. This is a strategic decision in our bilateral cooperation. It show a strong political will on the Turkish side to cooperate with Russia on energy issues. I am sure there will be a huge potential on how to cooperate on all these issues, and our energy ministers will be talking this possible cooperation prospects.

Q.:Another energy question. Do you have any information about how the talks between Gazprom and private Turkish companies in order to replace the contract with Botas that expired last year.

A.:It is going well. It is the issue of mutual interest.

Q.:How did the last year bilateral agreement that increased the supplements of Russian gas to Turkey can influence the talks between Gazprom and private companies?

A.:This is an economic issues between the two campmates. So it absolutely another issue. The talks have continues. There is a potential between the two countries for official projects for future cooperation, so that is important. But the negotiations will continue between companies .

Q.:Let me return to Bashar Assad. Must the international community prosecute him, if he leaves his post?

A.: The Syrian people will decide on all of these issues. We cannot decide on their behalf. So an important thing for us as a neighbor of Syria is to complete this process in a peaceful manner based on aspirations of the Syrian people.

Interfax

Turkish jets to deliver nuclear warheads, report says

The United States currently has 70 type B61-12 tactical nuclear bombs at its airbase in İncirlik in the southern province of Adana, according to daily Vatan.

'Gazelle' squadron, assigned with the task of delivering nuclear warheads, consists of F-16 warplanes. Hürriyet photo
'Gazelle' squadron, assigned with the task of delivering nuclear warheads, consists of F-16 warplanes. Hürriyet photo

Vatan acquired the information from a report by Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen that was published on the “Atomic Scientists Bulletin” website, revealing an inventory of the nuclear weapons the U.S. military keeps in Turkey.

Number of warheads decreased from 90 in 2001.

Between 10 and 20 of the 70 nuclear warheads at İncirlik were designed to be delivered to their targets by Turkish warplanes, according to the report.

The 142nd fighter/bomber squadron of the Turkish Air Forces, nicknamed the “Gazelles,” was assigned the task of delivering the nuclear ordnances. The squadron consists of F-16A/B warplanes.

The U.S. military needed a certain warplane type that is different than those stationed at the İncirlik airbase in order to deliver the remaining 50 warheads, the report by Norris and Kristensen said.

The Turkish state, however, has declined to allow the U.S. military to deploy the said aircraft at İncirlik.

U.S. warplanes would need to land at İncirlik from another location, equip the nuclear warheads and then fly to their targets, according to the report.

Turkey’s refusal to station nuclear-capable U.S. warplanes on its soil prevented İncirlik from acquiring a “full NATO position” status. This was a unique case among NATO bases, the report said.

New warheads arrive 2017

The report indicated that the B61-12 nuclear warheads currently deployed at İncirlik would be changed with the new B61-3/4 warheads.

Former Turkish Air Force Commander Gen. Ergin Cilasun was quoted as saying that “Turkey’s nuclear strike duty within NATO has ended” in 2001.

 

 

 

 

December/01/2011

VATAN

Turkey wants to clarify future of nuclear talks with Japan

Turkish government wants to make future of nuclear talks with Japan clear by mid-July, Turkey’s energy minister said Friday.

Following an agreement with Russia to construct Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in the Mediterranean port of Mersin’s Akkuyu town, Turkey has been engaged in talks with Japan since last year to build country’s second nuclear power plant in Sinop in the north. However, talks were interrupted after the massive earthquake that hit Japan last March.

Taner Yildiz said Turkish government wanted to know if Japanese companies would ask for some time from Turkey.

“We want to make it clear by mid-July,” Yildiz said.

Talks were underway with Japanese companies Toshiba and Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO), which operates the troubled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
Japan’s magnitude-9 earthquake on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that crippled the cooling systems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima.

“We know they are in serious trouble as the operator of Fukushima,” Yildiz said.

“We have told them that we would stand by them in this period of time. But if they would not be able to get involved in this project, we think it would be necessary for Turkey to review its program on the construction of nuclear power plants,” he added.

AA

India Successfully Tests Nuclear-Capable Missile

Prithvi II is an Indian short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

India on June 9 tested a short-range nuclear-capable missile along its eastern coast, an official said, part of the nation’s efforts to build up its atomic deterrent.

The surface-to-surface Prithvi-II missile was fired from a range in the eastern state of Orissa and hit its target in the Bay of Bengal successfully, the defence ministry official said.

The Prithvi, which is domestically built and developed, can carry nuclear or conventional payloads and has already been inducted into the armed services.

India’s Defence Research Development Organisation is developing a series of missiles as part of the country’s deterrent strategy against neighboring Pakistan and China, who also have nuclear weapons.

The fourth test of the 30-foot Prithvi-II was a routine part of training exercises for the Indian armed forces, officials said.

With a striking range of 200 miles (350 kilometers), the missile is capable of carrying a 2,200-pound (1,000-kilogram) warhead.

Bhubaneswar – AFP

Nuclear Weapons Threat Not Decreasing: SIPRI

More than 5,000 nuclear weapons are deployed around the world and nuclear powers continue investing in new weapon systems, making meaningful disarmament in the near future unlikely, a report published Tuesday said.

“More than 5,000 nuclear weapons are deployed and ready for use, including nearly 2,000 that are kept in a high state of alert,” according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

SIPRI’s report said the world’s eight nuclear powers – Britain, China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the U.S. – possess more than 20,500warheads.

As of January 2011, Russia had 11,000 nuclear warheads, including 2,427deployed, while the United States had 8,500 including 2,150 deployed, the report said.

The U.S. and Russia have signed a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that calls for a maximum of 1,550 warheads deployed per country.

However SIPRI argued that prospects for meaningful disarmament in the short-term are grim as all eight countries seem committed to either improving or maintaining their nuclear programs.

“The five legally recognized nuclear weapons states, as defined by the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty are either deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so,” the report said, referring to Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.

India and Pakistan are “expanding their capacity to produce fissile material for military purposes,” according to the report.

SIPRI Director Daniel Nord said south Asia, where relations between India and Pakistan seem perpetually tense, is “the only place in the world where you have a nuclear weapons arms race.”

While Israel, which has never conclusively declared itself a nuclear weapons state but is almost universally assumed to be one, “appears to be waiting to assess how the situation with Iran’s nuclear program develops,” SIPRI said.

Nord argued that because “nuclear weapons states are modernizing and are investing in their nuclear weapons establishments (it) seems unlikely that there will be any real nuclear weapon disarmament within the foreseeable future.”

The report said that North Korea “is believed to have produced enough plutonium to build a small number of nuclear warheads, but there is no public information to verify that it has operational nuclear weapons.”

Nord identified Pakistan “losing control of part of its nuclear arsenal” to a terrorist group as a specific concern.

He also voiced worry over the potential consequences if “Israel or the United States decide that they will have to intervene and do something about the program in Iran.”

Iran has repeatedly insisted that its nuclear program is non-military, but several world powers have demanded closer international inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites to verify the claim.

SIPRI is an independent institution that receives 50 percent of its funding from the Swedish state.

Stockholm – AFP

Visegrad: A New European Military Force

STRATFOR’s ‘The Agenda’ by George Friedman

With the Palestinians demonstrating and the International Monetary Fund in turmoil, it would seem odd to focus this week on something called the Visegrad Group. But this is not a frivolous choice. What the Visegrad Group decided to do last week will, I think, resonate for years, long after the alleged attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn is forgotten and long before the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved. The obscurity of the decision to most people outside the region should not be allowed to obscure its importance.

The region is Europe — more precisely, the states that had been dominated by the Soviet Union. The Visegrad Group, or V4, consists of four countries — Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary — and is named after two 14th century meetings held in Visegrad Castle in present-day Hungary of leaders of the medieval kingdoms of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The group was reconstituted in 1991 in post-Cold War Europe as the Visegrad Three (at that time, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were one). The goal was to create a regional framework after the fall of communism. This week the group took an interesting new turn.

On May 12, the Visegrad Group announced the formation of a “battlegroup” under the command of Poland. The battlegroup would be in place by 2016 as an independent force and would not be part of NATO command. In addition, starting in 2013, the four countries would begin military exercises together under the auspices of the NATO Response Force.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the primary focus of all of the Visegrad nations had been membership in the European Union and NATO. Their evaluation of their strategic position was threefold. First, they felt that the Russian threat had declined if not dissipated following the fall of the Soviet Union. Second, they felt that their economic future was with the European Union. Third, they believed that membership in NATO, with strong U.S. involvement, would protect their strategic interests. Of late, their analysis has clearly been shifting.

First, Russia has changed dramatically since the Yeltsin years. It has increased its power in the former Soviet sphere of influence substantially, and in 2008 it carried out an effective campaign against Georgia. Since then it has also extended its influence in other former Soviet states. The Visegrad members’ underlying fear of Russia, built on powerful historical recollection, has become more intense. They are both the front line to the former Soviet Union and the countries that have the least confidence that the Cold War is simply an old memory.

Second, the infatuation with Europe, while not gone, has frayed. The ongoing economic crisis, now focused again on Greece, has raised two questions: whether Europe as an entity is viable and whether the reforms proposed to stabilize Europe represent a solution for them or primarily for the Germans. It is not, by any means, that they have given up the desire to be Europeans, nor that they have completely lost faith in the European Union as an institution and an idea. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to expect that these countries would not be uneasy about the direction that Europe was taking. If one wants evidence, look no further than the unease with which Warsaw and Prague are deflecting questions about the eventual date of their entry into the eurozone. Both are the strongest economies in Central Europe, and neither is enthusiastic about the euro.

Finally, there are severe questions as to whether NATO provides a genuine umbrella of security to the region and its members. The NATO Strategic Concept, which was drawn up in November 2010, generated substantial concern on two scores. First, there was the question of the degree of American commitment to the region, considering that the document sought to expand the alliance’s role in non-European theaters of operation. For example, the Americans pledged a total of one brigade to the defense of Poland in the event of a conflict, far below what Poland thought necessary to protect the North European Plain. Second, the general weakness of European militaries meant that, willingness aside, the ability of the Europeans to participate in defending the region was questionable. Certainly, events in Libya, where NATO had neither a singular political will nor the military participation of most of its members, had to raise doubts. It was not so much the wisdom of going to war but the inability to create a coherent strategy and deploy adequate resources that raised questions of whether NATO would be any more effective in protecting the Visegrad nations.

There is another consideration. Germany’s commitment to both NATO and the EU has been fraying. The Germans and the French split on the Libya question, with Germany finally conceding politically but unwilling to send forces. Libya might well be remembered less for the fate of Moammar Gadhafi than for the fact that this was the first significant strategic break between Germany and France in decades. German national strategy has been to remain closely aligned with France in order to create European solidarity and to avoid Franco-German tensions that had roiled Europe since 1871. This had been a centerpiece of German foreign policy, and it was suspended, at least temporarily.

The Germans obviously are struggling to shore up the European Union and questioning precisely how far they are prepared to go in doing so. There are strong political forces in Germany questioning the value of the EU to Germany, and with every new wave of financial crises requiring German money, that sentiment becomes stronger. In the meantime, German relations with Russia have become more important to Germany. Apart from German dependence on Russian energy, Germany has investment opportunities in Russia. The relationship with Russia is becoming more attractive to Germany at the same time that the relationship to NATO and the EU has become more problematic.

For all of the Visegrad countries, any sense of a growing German alienation from Europe and of a growing German-Russian economic relationship generates warning bells. Before the Belarusian elections there was hope in Poland that pro-Western elements would defeat the least unreformed regime in the former Soviet Union. This didn’t happen. Moreover, pro-Western elements have done nothing to solidify in Moldova or break the now pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Uncertainty about European institutions and NATO, coupled with uncertainty about Germany’s attention, has caused a strategic reconsideration — not to abandon NATO or the EU, of course, nor to confront the Russians, but to prepare for all eventualities.

It is in this context that the decision to form a Visegradian battlegroup must be viewed. Such an independent force, a concept generated by the European Union as a European defense plan, has not generated much enthusiasm or been widely implemented. The only truly robust example of an effective battlegroup is the Nordic Battlegroup, but then that is not surprising. The Nordic countries share the same concerns as the Visegrad countries — the future course of Russian power, the cohesiveness of Europe and the commitment of the United States.

In the past, the Visegrad countries would have been loath to undertake anything that felt like a unilateral defense policy. Therefore, the decision to do this is significant in and of itself. It represents a sense of how these countries evaluate the status of NATO, the U.S. attention span, European coherence and Russian power. It is not the battlegroup itself that is significant but the strategic decision of these powers to form a sub-alliance, if you will, and begin taking responsibility for their own national security. It is not what they expected or wanted to do, but it is significant that they felt compelled to begin moving in this direction.

Just as significant is the willingness of Poland to lead this military formation and to take the lead in the grouping as a whole. Poland is the largest of these countries by far and in the least advantageous geographical position. The Poles are trapped between the Germans and the Russians. Historically, when Germany gets close to Russia, Poland tends to suffer. It is not at that extreme point yet, but the Poles do understand the possibilities. In July, the Poles will be assuming the EU presidency in one of the union’s six-month rotations. The Poles have made clear that one of their main priorities will be Europe’s military power. Obviously, little can happen in Europe in six months, but this clearly indicates where Poland’s focus is.

The militarization of the V4 runs counter to its original intent but is in keeping with the geopolitical trends in the region. Some will say this is over-reading on my part or an overreaction on the part of the V4, but it is neither. For the V4, the battlegroup is a modest response to emerging patterns in the region, which STRATFOR had outlined in its 2011 Annual Forecast. As for my reading, I regard the new patterns not as a minor diversion from the main pattern but as a definitive break in the patterns of the post-Cold War world. In my view, the post-Cold War world ended in 2008, with the financial crisis and the Russo-Georgian war. We are in a new era, as yet unnamed, and we are seeing the first breaks in the post-Cold War pattern.

I have argued in previous articles and books that there is a divergent interest between the European countries on the periphery of Russia and those farther west, particularly Germany. For the countries on the periphery, there is a perpetual sense of insecurity, generated not only by Russian power compared to their own but also by uncertainty as to whether the rest of Europe would be prepared to defend them in the event of Russian actions. The V4 and the other countries south of them are not as sanguine about Russian intentions as others farther away are. Perhaps they should be, but geopolitical realities drive consciousness and insecurity and distrust defines this region.

I had also argued that an alliance only of the four northernmost countries is insufficient. I used the concept “Intermarium,” which had first been raised after World War I by a Polish leader, Joseph Pilsudski, who understood that Germany and the Soviet Union would not be permanently weak and that Poland and the countries liberated from the Hapsburg Empire would have to be able to defend themselves and not have to rely on France or Britain.

Pilsudski proposed an alliance stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and encompassing the countries to the west of the Carpathians — Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In some formulations, this would include Yugoslavia, Finland and the Baltics. The point was that Poland had to have allies, that no one could predict German and Soviet strength and intentions, and that the French and English were too far away to help. The only help Poland could have would be an alliance of geography — countries with no choice.

It follows from this that the logical evolution here is the extension of the Visegrad coalition. At the May 12 defense ministers’ meeting, there was discussion of inviting Ukraine to join in. Twenty or even 10 years ago, that would have been a viable option. Ukraine had room to maneuver. But the very thing that makes the V4 battlegroup necessary — Russian power — limits what Ukraine can do. The Russians are prepared to give Ukraine substantial freedom to maneuver, but that does not include a military alliance with the Visegrad countries.

An alliance with Ukraine would provide significant strategic depth. It is unlikely to happen. That means that the alliance must stretch south, to include Romania and Bulgaria. The low-level tension between Hungary and Romania over the status of Hungarians in Romania makes that difficult, but if the Hungarians can live with the Slovaks, they can live with the Romanians. Ultimately, the interesting question is whether Turkey can be persuaded to participate in this, but that is a question far removed from Turkish thinking now. History will have to evolve quite a bit for this to take place. For now, the question is Romania and Bulgaria.

But the decision of the V4 to even propose a battlegroup commanded by Poles is one of those small events that I think will be regarded as a significant turning point. However we might try to trivialize it and place it in a familiar context, it doesn’t fit. It represents a new level of concern over an evolving reality — the power of Russia, the weakness of Europe and the fragmentation of NATO. This is the last thing the Visegrad countries wanted to do, but they have now done the last thing they wanted to do. That is what is significant.

Events in the Middle East and Europe’s economy are significant and of immediate importance. However, sometimes it is necessary to recognize things that are not significant yet but will be in 10 years. I believe this is one of those events. It is a punctuation mark in European history.

Visegrad:  A New European Military Force is republished with permission of  STRATFOR.