News Briefs – September 28, 2016

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EU presses ahead with military plans, UK opposes any EU army

European Union nations pressed ahead Sept. 27 with plans to boost military cooperation as Britain vowed to oppose the creation of an EU army or headquarters.
With Britain leaving the EU, France and Germany have been spearheading moves to boost Europe’s capacity to run its own security operations.
Britain insists the NATO military alliance is the only forum for European security, and London has routinely blocked deeper EU cooperation in the past.
“We’re going to oppose any idea of an EU army or an EU army headquarters, which would simply undermine NATO,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said at EU defense talks in Slovakia Sept. 27.
He stopped short of threatening a veto, saying only that “there is no majority here for an EU army.”
Despite staunch support for NATO, Britain must tread warily as it prepares to negotiate its departure from the EU. Once the U.K. officially triggers its exit, London and the EU will have two years to agree on the terms for leaving. Playing hardball on defense when it is leaving anyway could undermine the negotiating goodwill of its partners.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there is a “need to boost European capacity” for EU operations.
“We are in a very strong Franco-German relationship and we think we will be able to make significant progress before the end of the year,” he said, standing alongside German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
Von der Leyen insisted that “it’s not about a European army.”
EU troops have been training police and security forces in Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere, and recently agreed to train the Libyan coastguard.
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief who is chairing the talks, said the EU’s treaties do not allow a European army to be created. She said the attendance of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Bratislava is a sign that the EU and NATO are working closely together.
Stoltenberg, for his part, gave NATO’s blessing to the boost in EU cooperation.
“It has been conveyed very clearly that this is not about establishing anything which is duplicating the efforts of NATO but which is in complementarity to NATO,” he said. AP
 

Russia denies its warplanes jeopardized air safety

The Russian military has denied allegations that its bombers jeopardized air safety during a patrol mission over the Sea of Norway.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov dismissed reports in Iceland that Russian bombers with their transponders switched off flew dangerously close to an Icelandic passenger jet last Sept. 22. A transponder emits a signal that allows the identification of an aircraft.
Konashenkov said Sept. 27 that Russian Tu-160 bombers were flying at a safe distance from passenger planes and had their transponders switched on. He added that the bombers were escorted by NATO jets.
Konashenkov described the reports as part of efforts to “incite Russophobia in Europe.”
Amid Russia-West tensions, the U.S. and its NATO allies have repeatedly said Russian warplanes threaten air safety. Moscow has denied the accusations. AP
 

Amid tensions, Japan navy chief wants exchanges with China

Japan’s top naval officer said Sept. 26 he is open to resuming engagement with China’s navy despite strong concerns about Chinese activities near disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Adm. Tomohisa Takei said that personnel exchanges and port visits between Japan’s maritime self-defense force and China’s navy were suspended several years ago and should be restarted to improve relations.
“Our door is open,” Takei told the National Bureau of Asian Research, a Washington think tank.
Four years after relations between the two East Asian powers went into a nose dive, their leaders agreed this month to speed up talks on a sea and air communication system aimed at avoiding mishaps between their forces.
Takei expressed concern, however, that China was expanding its area of operations near the disputed islands administered by Japan. He described the situation as “dangerous” and said China’s activities at sea and in the air risked provoking a crisis.
Japan’s government said Sept. 26 it scrambled at least one fighter jet after eight Chinese warplanes passed over the Miyako Strait on Sunday, east of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyu.
Chinese media reports said the flights were part of a routine exercise involving about 40 aircraft.
Japan has also been critical of China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea, which lies further south. Japan is not among the half-dozen governments with territorial claims there but relies on oil and gas supplies shipped through those waters.
Takei said his government plans to undertake training cruises with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea and multilateral exercises with regional navies. But he said that did not mean Japan was planning joint patrols with its American ally. AP

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