NATO ill-equipped to defend members: Dutch advisory council

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he addresses a press conference during the second day of a defence ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 9, 2017. (AFP / JOHN THYS)
Updated 10 November 2017
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NATO ill-equipped to defend members: Dutch advisory council

THE HAGUE: 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 independent 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 defense,” the AIV said in a statement.
But NATO hit back, insisting it is “the strongest alliance in the world — with 2.5 million men and women under arms and available to come to the defense of any NATO member.”
“The commitment of the United States to NATO is beyond doubt,” NATO deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet added in an email to AFP.
The Dutch body called on the 29-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (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 US has been its “political and military backbone,” but since Trump took office in January there has been “a lack of leadership” by the Americans.
Europe’s safety is under threat from “destabilizing 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) an assertive Russia could seek to abuse this situation,” 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.
But NATO deputy spokesman Cazalet refuted the idea that Baltic nations were vulnerable.
“Our Baltic allies are not just protected by their national forces and NATO’s multinational battlegroups, but by the sum total of Allied armed forces,” he said.
“In response to a more challenging security environment, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of its defense since the end of the Cold War,” he added, highlighting that four multinational battle groups have been deployed to the east.
He also stressed that the NATO response force has been tripled “with a new 5,000-strong quick reaction force at its core, capable of moving in days.”
Concerns, however, 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 defense ministers on Wednesday backing the creation of two new command centers to help protect Europe.


Three dead in gang shooting in Sweden

Updated 32 min 25 sec ago
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Three dead in gang shooting in Sweden

  • While shootings that lead to multiple deaths remain rare in Sweden, the normally tranquil nation has seen a rise in violent crime in recent years.
  • Witnesses to Monday’s shooting said the victims were sprayed with around 15 to 20 bullets as they walked out of an Internet cafe, not far from a police station.

STOCKHOLM: Three people were killed and three others injured in a gang shooting in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, plagued by rival criminal gangs, police said Tuesday.
While shootings that lead to multiple deaths remain rare in Sweden, the normally tranquil nation has seen a rise in violent crime in recent years, a phenomenon that has preoccupied voters ahead of a September 9 general election.
Immigration, security and crime — primarily in Sweden’s disadvantaged suburbs — are among the main themes of the election campaign.
The ruling Social Democrats have seen their support in opinion polls slump in recent months, while the ratings of the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have soared.
Witnesses to Monday’s shooting said the victims were sprayed with around 15 to 20 bullets as they walked out of an Internet cafe, not far from a police station, at around 8:00 p.m. (1800 GMT).
At least one of the attackers fired an automatic weapon, according to witnesses cited in the media, though police refused to comment on the reports.
Police said the victims were all known criminals.
“The people involved are considered criminal gang members who are involved in organized crime in Malmo,” the city’s police chief Stefan Sinteus said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The three dead were aged 19, 27 and 29, while the injured were 21, 30 and 32. Their identities have not been disclosed.
No suspects have been identified or arrested yet.
The Scandinavian country has a reputation for being safe, enjoying relatively low levels of crime in general.
But in the disadvantaged suburbs of the three biggest cities Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, violent crime has been on the rise in recent years.
Authorities have attributed the increase to rival gangs fighting over control of the drug and prostitution markets, and random settling of scores between loose gangs of youths who see no prospects in life.
Last year, 10 people were killed by gunfire in Malmo, a deeply segregated industrial town of 312,000 where more than 40 percent are of foreign origin.
In all of Sweden, more than 40 people were killed by gunfire in 2017, and 320 acts of violence with a firearm were registered, primarily in the three biggest cities, according to police statistics.
Police said Tuesday Malmo was home to three or four criminal gangs.
“There are a number of gang conflicts that we consider heated and this is one of them. But we had no indication this was going to happen,” Sinteus said.
A Malmo resident identified only as Sanna told news agency TT she heard the gunfire from her home 500 meters (yards) away.
“It sounds terrible but sometimes it feels like you don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. Welcome to Malmo — it’s the Wild West here,” she said.
“It’s tragic, but this happens all the time nowadays. It shouldn’t be like this, but you don’t feel safe in Malmo anymore.”
Manne Gerell, a professor of criminology at Malmo University, told AFP gang violence had “gradually increased in recent decades, but the increase has accelerated the past few years.”
Malmo has “bigger problems with gang violence” than other Swedish cities.
“We don’t really know why,” Gerell said.
But one hypothesis “is that Malmo has more poverty and other social problems than other big cities, and in cities with more social problems there tends to be more crime, even though poverty is not necessarily the cause of the criminality.”
Swedish politicians expressed frustration on Tuesday.
Monday’s shooting “is a terrible crime and it just reminds us that our most important job is to bust organized crime,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told TT.
The head of the opposition conservative Moderate Party, Ulf Kristersson, said Sweden needed to “do more.”
“This has to stop... There are shootings almost every week in Sweden now,” he said.
“We need longer sentences to be able to lock up criminal gang members longer, but we also need to ban ex-convicts from being allowed to return to their old environments.”