Germany to increase army strength as US demands greater commitment from NATO members

Germany to increase army strength as US demands greater commitment from NATO members
Germany has announced its plans to increase its army by 5,000 troops, with 500 extra reserves and 1,000 civilian posts, aiming to have a total manpower of 198,000 by 2024.

The announcement was made on Tuesday by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen in a statement published on the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) website.

The Bundeswehr faces demands like never before,” said von der Leyen. “In the fight against IS [Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL] terrorism, the stabilization of Mali, or our considerable NATO presence in the Baltic States.”

Germany’s armed forces “must also be able to grow with its tasks,” she added.

These new plans to boost the Bundeswehr would cost an extra 955 million euros (over a billion dollars) per year from 2024.

The United States under President Donald Trump has signaled its desire for other NATO members to make greater commitment to the alliance.

At a summit in Wales in 2014, the alliance members agreed to each country setting aside 2 percent of their GDP for their defense budgets, a target currently only met by the US and four other members – Poland, Estonia, Greece and the UK.

Germany’s military spending is around 1.22 percent, but at the Munich Security Council, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reassured US Vice President Mike Pence that Germany was committed to the agreement.

VIDEO: US military helicopters arrive in Germany amid NATO buildup in Eastern Europe 

Since World War II, Germany has been reluctant to get its military heavily involved in overseas conflicts, but German troops have taken part in operations in Mali and Afghanistan as well as coalition efforts against the Islamic State terrorist group.

In January, Germany started moving a contingent of 1,200 soldiers to the Rukla military base in Lithuania, a mere 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Russian border.

READ MORE: 450 German troops head for NATO deployment in Lithuania

In addition, dozens of US Chinook, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters were deployed to the German port city of Bremerhaven earlier in February as part of the largest build-up of NATO troops in Germany and Eastern Europe since the Cold War. The Russian government has consistently condemned the NATO build-up as a threat to regional security.

This deployment is of course a threat for us,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov said on February 9, adding that “it is obvious that the steps by NATO gravely increase the risk of incidents [between NATO and Russian forces].”

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‘Don’t tell a bear what to do’: Russia brushes off UK warning not ‘to stick paws in’ Libya

‘Don’t tell a bear what to do’: Russia brushes off UK warning not ‘to stick paws in’ Libya
The Russian defense minister has warned against telling “a bear what to do,” as he was commenting on his British counterpart, describing Russia as “a bear” and saying the West does not need it “sticking its paws in” Libya.

“While on the ‘animal’ topic… What do they [UK] have on their coat of arms? A lion, I guess. There is an old saying: all lions are felines, but not all felines are lions. Let everyone mind their own business. I don’t think that there is an animal in their zoo that can tell a bear what to do,” Sergey Shoigu said while answering questions from students at a conference held by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Tuesday.

On Friday, speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that the UK doesn’t need “the bear sticking its paws” in Libya’s affairs, the Daily Mail reported.

Fallon mentioned a video conference call between Russia’s Defense Minister Shoigu and Libyan Army Commander Khalifa Haftar that took place a month ago during Haftar’s visit to Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.

“He went on the aircraft carrier for a video call with Shoigu, that’s not interference is it, yet?” Fallon said. “Putin is testing the west. He is testing the alliance [NATO]. At any point he sees weakness, he pushes home,” Fallon said.

“That’s why it is important we stand up for our values and we continue to back the Sarraj [the prime minister of the UN-recognized government of Libya] government while urging it to be more representative of the interests of the east.”

Libya has been in turmoil since the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, following an armed rebellion backed by Western military intervention.

In 2015, Libya’s rival governments – the Council of Deputies based in Tobruk, and the Tripoli-based General National Congress – agreed upon setting up a Government of National Accord (the GNA) that would form the Presidency Council.

In January 2016, the first meeting of the GNA cabinet took place in Tunisia. However, Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament, supported by troops loyal to Haftar, refused to cooperate with the unity government.

Commenting on the situation in Libya, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said that the crisis could be settled only in cooperation with all political forces operating in the country, while calling attempts to dictate decision from outside the country “counterproductive.”

“It’s clear that the country’s future must be determined by Libyans. We believe that the attempts to impose ready-made solution on them are counterproductive,” Lavrov said in his February 10 interview to the Russian Izvestiya newspaper, stressing that Moscow “continues meticulously working with both power centers in Libya.”

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Japanese govt pushing Fukushima evacuees back to high radiation areas – Greenpeace

Japanese govt pushing Fukushima evacuees back to high radiation areas - Greenpeace
The Japanese government is encouraging evacuees from Fukushima to return to the nuclear disaster site despite dangerous levels of radiation, according to a report released by Greenpeace.

The Fukushima prefecture is planning to cut housing support for evacuees starting 31 March, when the evacuation order for the 6,000 residents of the village of Iitate is due to be lifted. This is despite radiation levels comparable to Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, a report from Greenpeace Japan has found.

“The relatively high radiation values, both inside and outside houses, show an unacceptable radiation risk for citizens if they were to return to Iitate. For citizens returning to their irradiated homes they are at risk of receiving radiation equivalent to one chest X-ray every week. This is not normal or acceptable,” energy campaigner Ai Kashiwagi said in a press release published by Greenpeace on Tuesday.

Greenpeace Japan’s survey found levels of radiation well above government targets. Their team took measurements of houses around the area, which was used to calculate an average annual exposure rate. Soil samples were also taken as well as retrieving personal dose badges that were installed in two houses in February 2016.

The average radiation exposure in Iitate was found to be between 39 millisieverts (mSv) and 183mSv over the course of 70 years (excluding natural radiation), which exceeds yearly guidelines set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). The ICRP says a maximum recommended annual radiation exposure is 1mSv.

According to Greenpeace, the Japanese government has not completed risk assessments for lifetime exposure to the radiation.

“The government is not basing its policies on science or in the interest of protecting public health. It has failed to provide estimates of lifetime exposure rates for Iitate’s citizens, nor considered how re-contamination from forests will pose a threat for decades to come,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace Belgium’s radiation specialist.

“The Abe government is attempting to create a false reality that six years after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident life is returning to normal. In the real world of today, and for decades to come, there is and will be nothing normal about the emergency radiological situation in Iitate,” he added.

In its statement, Greenpeace has urged the government to keep offering financial assistance to survivors so they won’t be forced to return, and take measures to reduce radiation exposure. Currently, the government says it will keep paying survivor’s rents until March 31, after which aid will be much more limited.

The 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the worst of its kind since the infamous 1986 catastrophe in Chernobyl, Ukraine. After the Tohoku earthquake in eastern Japan and the subsequent tsunami, the cooling system of one of the reactors stopped working, causing a meltdown. Nearly half a million people were evacuated and a 20-kilometer exclusion zone was set up.

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