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.


More bodies found in flooded Kerala as toll hits 357

Updated 19 August 2018
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More bodies found in flooded Kerala as toll hits 357

  • Entire villages in Kerala have been swept away in the state’s worst floods for a century
  • Emergency responders fear the death toll will rise as they reach areas almost entirely underwater

THRISSUR, India: Rescuers searched submerged villages in southwest India on Sunday in a desperate hunt for survivors after floods killed more than 350 people and stranded thousands without food or water.
Entire villages in Kerala have been swept away in the state’s worst floods for a century, and emergency responders fear the death toll will rise as they reach areas almost entirely underwater.
Thousands remain trapped in towns and villages cut off by the floods, and heavy rain forecast in coming days threatens to compound the disaster.
Bedraggled survivors massing at evacuation centers have described desperate scenes after days without food or water.
“They were the scariest hours of our life,” 20-year-old Inderjeet Kumar told AFP at a church doubling as a relief shelter in the hard-hit Thrissur district.
“There was no power, no food and no water — even though it was all around us.”
Local officials said the overall death toll in the state since the start of the monsoon on May 29 had reached 357, with 33 of them found dead in just the last 24 hours.
In Thrissur, rescuers searching inundated houses discovered the bodies of those unable to escape as the floodwaters quickly rose.
“They didn’t think that it would rise this high — 10 to 15 feet at some places — when the initial warnings were issued,” said Ashraf Ali K.M, who is leading the search in the small town of Mala.
“Some of them later gave distress calls when the water rose high and fast,” he told AFP at the scene Sunday as dead cattle and other livestock floated past.
Among the dead was a mother and son whose home collapsed around them late Saturday. Another was a local man who volunteered for the search and rescue mission.
His body was retrieved by comrades early Sunday, said Dibin K.S, a Kerala firefighter, in a grim reminder of the perils facing rescuers.
Thousands of army, navy and air force personnel have fanned out across Kerala.
The army said Sunday that 250 people were evacuated from Pathanamthitta district, many of them sick after days in the pounding monsoon rain.
Food, medicine and water has been dropped from helicopters to isolated areas.
A train from Pune in Maharashtra state headed south on Saturday for Kerala laden with more than one million liters (two million pints) of drinking water.
But roads and 134 bridges have been damaged, cutting off remote areas in the hilly districts of Kerala which are worst affected.
Rising torrents of murky brown water swallowed the only remaining road into the town of Mannar, where 10,000 residents are estimated to be trapped, The Times of India newspaper reported.
The state’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan vowed Sunday “to save even the last person stranded.”
Fishermen have sailed inland from Kerala’s coast to join the search, as volunteers erected soup kitchens and appeals went out worldwide for donations.
At St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Sunday, worshippers held aloft signs reading “Pray for Kerala,” a state with a large Christian population.
“Our solidarity and the concrete support of the international community should not lack for our brothers,” said Pope Francis on Sunday.
Many panic-stricken flood victims have resorted to appeals on social media, saying they cannot get through to rescue services.
In Mala, desperate villagers had to improvise as the floodwaters rose, using kitchen pots as rafts to reach their stricken neighbors.
“They used these huge cooking pots to rescue around 100 people in the first wave of flash floods, as no one was prepared (for a rescue),” one local rescuer told AFP.
There have been moments of cheer amid the tragedy.
In the hilly district of Idukki, rescuers told the Press Trust of India of working through the night to save a newborn boy and his mother from the rising waters.
But dam levels remain dangerously high, swollen by monsoon deluges, and more rain is forecast.
The Indian Meteorological Department has warned of rain until August 23 across Kerala, including heavy downpours in the districts of Kozhikode, Kannur and Idukki.
Idukki has received more than 321 centimeters (126 inches) of rain since June and is now virtually cut off from the rest of the state.
Landslides triggered by the torrential downpours have wiped out entire villages. Some 350,000 people have been left homeless and taken shelter in relief camps.
The floods have caused an estimated $3 billion in damage but the bill is likely to rise as the scale of devastation becomes clearer.
Vijayan, the chief minister, has requested extra funding as well as 20 more helicopters and 600 motorized boats to step up the rescue efforts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted a brief air inspection tour of the state Saturday and announced an immediate grant of $75 million.