Nato's ballistic-missile defence installation in Romania and a cause for celebration for animal rights activists.
A little airbase on the agricultural plains of southern Romania is perhaps not the first place that springs to mind when people think of a strongpoint on the frontline of a future European war. But in 2015 Nato’s first ballistic-missile defence (bmd) installation should be declared operational in Deveselu.
Together with a similar base in Poland – which is set to be operational in 2018 – and four US navy destroyers based at Rota in Spain, the Aegis Ashore facility in Deveselu will constitute western Europe’s only capability designed to intercept ballistic missiles.
These weapons systems will be co-ordinated by Nato’s new Air Command and Control System (accs), which pulls together data from radars and command-and-control centres to create a mosaic picture of anything moving through its airspace, friendly or otherwise.
This means that after decades of discussion Nato will finally field an umbrella protecting against the threat from ballistic missiles. Or at least a limited threat, because the defences have been carefully calibrated against small numbers of basic missiles from “rogue states” rather than a massed assault from an advanced adversary.
In recent years Russian president Vladimir Putin has complained that Nato’s expansion to the east and the placing of its missile-defence programmes such as the Aegis Ashore in eastern Europe are aggressive moves. Nato counters the accusation by pointing out that it has been careful, despite the bellicose rhetoric between the two sides, to try to calm tensions.
Dr Ian Anthony, director of the Stockholm-based Sipri think-tank’s European Security Programme, says: “Nato has gone out of its way to explain that missile defence is not intended to alter the balance of power with Russia and that was reconfirmed at the Wales summit. However, this explanation is not satisfying to Russia, which sees the missile-defence plan as something that might be expanded in the future.”
Despite its own economy being in freefall, Russia has agreed to virtually write off Uzbekistan’s debts to Moscow. However, the seemingly generous move also plays to the slightly unhinged economics of the arms trade. In exchange for wiping out Uzbekistan’s €720m tab with a one-off payment of €20m, president Vladimir Putin expects his Uzbek opposite number, Islam Karimov, to take up new loans to buy Russian weapons. Karimov is concerned about the withdrawal of coalition forces from neighbouring Afghanistan and is expected to have a substantial shopping list for counter-insurgency weapons to refresh Uzbekistan’s Soviet-era armoury. The US is also courting Uzbekistan, having dispatched senior diplomat Nisha Biswal there to discuss security co-operation just days before Putin’s largesse, building on the recent US relaxation of its military-aid restrictions.
China has unveiled its new stealth fighter, the Shenyang j-31 (pictured), manufactured by the Aviation Industry Corp of China (Avic). It is ostensibly meant to reflect China’s growing military might and desire to break the US monopoly in the stealth sector. The so-called fifth-generation fighter jet is marketed as an alternative to Lockheed Martin’s f-35, with Avic president Lin Zuoming proclaiming that “when it takes to the sky” the j-31 can “definitely take down” its US rival. Whether Lin was referring to a trade tussle or a more deadly encounter is open to interpretation.
In any case, industry watchers are not so sure. Little is known about the plane’s technical specifications and cost, and spectators at the launch witnessed dark smoke billowing from the j-31’s engines while in flight – hardly a helpful attribute in avoiding detection.
Live-animal testing for military purposes has long been one of the more hush-hush areas of defence, not least because it attracts considerable controversy. And yet the practice has undoubtedly educated combat medics, advanced battlefield treatments and brought greater understanding about the effect weapons have on the body.
But after years of campaigning, animal-rights activists have scored a sizeable victory: one of the big beasts has announced a change of policy. Starting this year the Pentagon has outlawed the use of live-animal testing for military training. This brings the US military in line with the civilian community and 22 of the 28 Nato member states.
The shift was announced by assistant secretary of defence Dr Jonathan Woodson, who said realistic human dummies would now replace animals in training scenarios. It will spare the lives of thousands of animals each year. The measures, however, fall short of an outright ban. The US military will still be permitted to blow up and shoot animals to replicate battlefield trauma.
“This tremendous step to modernise military medicine will spare countless animals pain and suffering and ultimately improve medical care for America’s fighting forces,” says UK Peta director Mimi Bekhechi. Campaigners are now calling for other militaries around the world to follow suit.