Category Archives: Monthly Mind

Every month on the 15th day we post an article, giving this category the name “Monthly Mind”.
We try to capture the latest global trends on the international level and look beyond the surface.
Our aim is to make highly political or scientific topics more easily accessable to people interested in them.

NATO’s Southern Flank: Russian A2/AD emerges in the Mediterranean Sea

By BEF Vice President and NATO-chair Ionut Sutea

The Syrian quagmire is finally nearing a certain status quo. ISIS has been stripped-off its quasi-state form and forced back to operate as a traditional insurgency. The defeat can mostly be credited to the efforts of the U.S.-led International Coalition and its embedded local indigenous multi-ethnic group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  On the other hand, the Assad regime is has regained more than half of the national territory and now controls over 75% of the Syrian population. The opposition forces are utterly degraded and boxed into a few isolated patches of land in the western parts of Syria. Largely abandoned by their wealthy backers, inter-Rebel skirmishes further polarized the opposition between Islamists and hardcore militant Salafist (Jihadists). Turkey has made good use of their situation to further its own anti-Kurdish agenda on the borderlands with Operation “Euphrates Shield” (2016-2017) in northern Aleppo countryside, and Operation “Olive Branch” (2018) in Afrin canton.  But resulting from the Loyalist success in the civil war, geopolitical objectives are being translated into practice by the two main external backers of the Regime. The Russian Armed Forces as well as the Iranian-backed Shi’a paramilitary groups have played a key role in emboldening the Assad regime and degrading the Opposition – which enabled the two backers to satisfy their initial objectives.

Russia’s military intervention launched in mid-2015 was mostly motivated by long-term strategic goals that sought to undermine NATO’s southern flank and forward the agenda of resurgence. Inherently, the Russian Federation will now maintain a permanent military presence in the Mediterranean Sea and the Levant amid the end of the Syrian Civil War. The Latakia Air field, initially established a center of operations against ISIS, will now continue to host dozens of fighter jets and bombers; while the Naval Facility of Tartus, leased since the early 70s to Moscow, will be enhanced to form a Mediterranean Fleet consisting of a nuclear submarine and 11 warships. Guarded by the advanced S-400 anti-air system, the Russian military-assets on the Syrian coastline form a new Anti-Access Area Denial Zone (A2/AD). Russia has invested considerable energy into developing A2/AD capabilities and carefully positioning them to maximize their strategic effect. That process accelerated after the seizure of Crimea. A2/AD bubbles are purposed to deny an adversary’s forces access to a particular region or otherwise hinder freedom of maneuver – it includes, but it is not limited to: anti-air defense systems, counter-maritime assets and theater offensive strike weapons. The strategic ramifications of the action underpinned on the Syrian coastline are to vanguard the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, challenge NATO’s freedom of maneuver on its southern flank and enhance Russia’s geopolitical posture and security needs throughout the region and the world.

In addition, the Russian expeditionary forces, mechanized units and fighter jets have been operated and moved as far as Syria’s central and eastern provinces. The Tiyas (T4), Shayrat (hit by U.S. tomahawk cruise missile in mid-2017) and Deir ez-Zor Air Bases are jointly operated by Syrian, Russian and Iranian forces. The Kremlin made good use of those assets to establish a forward operational presence stretching to the mid-Euphrates river valley, that is only contained by the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) present on the river’s eastern shores. The Russians are not only attempting to close the airspace in western Syria and contest the eastern Mediterranean, but also to establish a pro-active military expeditionary presence seeking to profit from U.S. disengagement in the Middle East. Such undertakings are projected to expand into Iraq, Libya and possibly Egypt.

The strategic diagnosis will, however, encounter several “black swans”. Given the current geopolitical environment, Russia’s plans are caught between a rock and a hard place. The Kremlin is playing Russian roulette in the Israeli-Iranian divergence. It is simultaneously attempting to maintain its military cooperation with the Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian militias, Iraqi PMUs and al-Quds forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whilst pivoting with Jerusalem. This gamble has proven reckless and inefficient in recent deteriorating conditions. Operations security (OPSEC) and asset-protection has also been dangerously poor. Recent Rebel attacks on the Latakia Air Base show that Russia and the Syrian Regime are unable of fully securing vital and strategic bases from unsophisticated acts of aggression. This is only a taste of the long-term insurgency facing the Russian presence there, as the Kremlin continues to support a genocidal government formed by an Alawite minority in a predominantly Sunni, but hyper-complex, societal landscape. This is without mentioning the Turkish-Kurdish showdown developing in Afrin that further complicates a permanent settlement.

In the long-run, the creation of AD/2D bubbles on NATO’s flanks is counter-productive for the Kremlin. Moving advanced air defense and tactical nuclear weapons on Allied borders will only urge its richer and more capable Western adversaries to further proliferate precision-strike missile systems. This is a tech race that Moscow cannot keep up with, given its worsening economy and obsolete weapons industry. The United States will maintain strategic supremacy for the near future regardless of attempts from foes to compete. This should not downplay that Russian interference in the most contested region of the world has severely complicated the local dynamic and has strongly hampered Western strategic goals in the area. Now, more than ever, the Southern Flank needs to gain traction as a theater of utmost interest for NATO and Euro-Atlantic strategists.

Read an extended version of this assessment on T-Intelligence.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.


By Grifynn Clay, BEF Participant 2017

While many may be focused on the recent plunge of the U.S. Stock Market, the latest Brexit talks, or Angela Merkel’s attempts to form a coalition, the city of Cape Town, South Africa, is just weeks away from experiencing an extreme water shortage. The second largest city in South Africa, with a population of nearly 4 million, could move to controlling distribution of water as soon as April 6th as reserve supplies hit extreme lows [1]. While increases in water scarcity have required greater adoption of conservation strategy, in South Africa it may have been too little too late. Other governments who face water scarcity should take note.

If current patterns of water usage and climate change continue scarcity is set to increase. This resource uncertainty may place many regions at a greater risk of instability. Current examples of water related conflict can already be seen in war torn Yemen and Syria. Factors that led to Syria’s 2011 civil war were likely amplified by drought and water shortages that occurred as a result of mismanagement of already scarce resources. While not solely responsible, agricultural failures linked to a multi-seasonal drought, between 2006 and 2009, contributed to the internal migration of nearly 1.5 million Syrians from rural to urban areas [2]. This displacement, coupled with the reality that few opportunities were found in cities to those who migrated, likely increased tensions leading up to the current conflict in Syria. Palestine and Israel, set to be some of the most water stressed countries by 2040, will likely see their conflicts exacerbated as access to water dwindles [3].

NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly warns that food and water shortages in the Middle East and Northern Africa have the potential to spell trouble for the global community in the form of mass migrations and violent conflict [4]. As these regions fail to develop policies, or cease to have the capacity, to preserve resources needed to support life it will become a global strategic imperative to see that action is taken in order to prevent instability. Mass migrations, like the ones recently seen into Europe, may become more common as individuals seek locations with more opportunities and access to water.

Several significant steps that will be taken to combat reduction of resources are tied into the commitments laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. Action taken to reduce climate change will assist in lowering future water stress in many regions. However, as the Agreement’s main focus is not water conservation, it is not certain that it will make a significant impact in reducing future scarcity. Water stress is more likely to be driven by increased demand from growing populations and economic activity than it is by climate change [5]. Even if the Climate Agreement’s commitments were met, a growing global population, increasing urbanization, and an inability to adjust agricultural and conservation policies spells trouble for the future of water security.

Countries familiar to water scarcity are not the only ones set to experience challenges in the near future. Several of the world’s top economies, including the U.S., China, India, Italy, Australia, Spain, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are set to see high or extremely high water scarcity by 2040 if policies are not adjusted [3]. To add more concern, some leading experts on the economic impacts of climate change warn that average global incomes are set to decline roughly 23% by 2100 if the existing pattern of global warming continues [4]. This reduction of economic opportunity coupled with diminished resources will likely cause greater movements of people from the most affected regions. This migration may resemble the most recent migrant and refuge crisis seen in Europe, with countries struggling to cope with the influx of individuals from disturbed regions. In order to prevent future crises governments need to begin reevaluating their policies surrounding water conservation and resource management in order to head off water driven conflict. What is happening in Cape Town should be a warning not only to countries that are already water stressed, but to major economies as well. Failure to adjust global water policy and conservation strategy will spell trouble around the globe.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

[1] City of Cape Town. (2018). Day Zero. From

[2] Suter, M. (2017, September 12). Running Out of Water: Conflict and Water Scarcity in Yemen and Syria. From

[3] Maddocks, A., Young, R.S., & Reig, P. (2015, August 26). Ranking the World’s Most Water Stressed Countries in 2040. From

[4] NATO. (2017, May 22). Lawmakers from NATO allies warn on risks from Middle East water shortages, climate change. From

[5] Dwortzan, M. (2016, October 4). Even if the Paris Agreement is implemented, food and water supplies remain at risk. From