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Security Brief: EUCOM Week of April 4, 2021

Week of April 4, 2021 | Issue 26

Collins Alexander, Jessica Sumner, Kaitlyn Vlahoulis; EUCOM

Northern Irish nationalist youths protest against Brexit[1]

Date: April 7, 2021

Location: Shankill Road, West Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Parties involved: Northern Irish unionists and nationalists

The event: Unionist and nationalist supporters, widely reported as primarily consisting of youth and possibly individuals with gang or paramilitary affiliations, set a bus on fire and threw rocks at the responding police presence. The Northern Ireland Protocol, a byproduct of Brexit, has complicated the Good Friday Agreement’s implementation as more EU trade checks are enforced at Northern Irish ports. These checks anger the unionists, as they believe Northern Ireland is being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, and Northern Irish in general as they are subjected to greater costs and increased wait times for daily products.

The implications:

  • The incident symbolically took place near a peace wall that was erected during the Troubles, a sectarian conflict from the 1960s to the 1990s driven by the issue of Northern Ireland’s independence and concluding with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This indicates the Good Friday Agreement is vulnerable to relegation by unionists and nationalists as expectations over the smoothness of Brexit remain unmet and the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement, namely a soft border and the same treatment as all other countries within the United Kingdom, look uncertain with the new trade checks.

  • If the Northern Ireland Protocol is not sorted out quickly violence is likely to escalate and power-sharing between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the nationalist Sinn Féin party will likely become more difficult as the unionists call for suspending the protocol and the nationalists call for a referendum for independence. This would likely ignite even more issues for the United Kingdom as Scotland and Northern Ireland face growing calls for independence. If independence were to occur, Northern Ireland would rejoin the European Union as it simultaneously rejoins Ireland, and Scotland would likely apply for EU membership as well, complicating trade for the UK.

  • With the consequences of Brexit remaining at the forefront of Northern Ireland’s national policy, any provocation, like the police not charging the leader of the nationalist Sinn Féin party for breaking COVID-19 restrictions, is likely to spark more immediate violence regardless of how small the provocation is.

Date: April 1, 2021

Location: Donbass, Ukraine

Parties involved: Russia and Ukraine, EU, NATO, USA

The event: Russian military buildup has been detected in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine with reports claiming this to be the largest buildup of force since the conflict began in 2014, resulting in 13,000 deaths. Reports have been made that two U.S. naval warships are present in the Black Sea in the event of an outbreak of war. The international response to the conflict has been predominantly encouraging a de-escalation of tensions and for both sides to withhold the use of force.

The implications:

  • Both sides continue to blame each other, but tensions have escalated with Ukrainian authorities stating the only way to solve this problem is to provide Ukraine with a direct path to NATO membership. This accelerated membership would violate the original ceasefire that was declared in both Minsk I and Minsk II, and in turn, gives a precedent for both sides to act extrajudicially to achieve their means. Ultimately, by ignoring the original ceasefire, all of the elements that had previously quelled the potential for war are now inapplicable and have created the prospect of heightened vulnerabilities for Ukrainian territorial sovereignty and political stability.

  • If NATO is to fast-track membership for Ukraine, Russia is likely to take this as a direct act of aggression, and it will cause further pushes towards NATO ascension from other NATO hopeful countries such as Moldova and Georgia who equally have Russian occupied territories.

  • With the rising tensions between the two countries, if one is to incite direct military action, it will likely force the international community to become involved due to Ukraine’s position as a buffer between Western Europe and Russia, as well as the significant posturing by several NATO countries including the United States in defending Ukrainian interests. Furthermore, Ukraine serves as a corridor between Russia and the EU in terms of trade, has access to the Black Sea, and is an instrumental player in Russia’s ability to transport oil.

  • The military buildup will also likely contribute to the number of casualties that are already reported each year in the Eastern Ukrainian region with Russian involvement.

Date: April 6, 2021

Location: Greenland

Parties involved: Inuit Ataqatigiit Party, Siumut Party

The event: Greenland’s Inuit Ataqatigiit Party defeated the Siumut Party in a general election. The winning oppositionist party ran on a policy of blocking a rare-earths and uranium mine in Kvanefjeld over pollution and toxic waste concerns.

The implications:

  • The vote and subsequent decision to halt the mine’s development temporarily prevents international exploitation of Greenland’s rare earth. However, this issue is highly likely to be at the forefront of political discussion during the next election because the elements are essential for electronics and weaponry. China currently remains the largest supplier of rare-earth elements and owns a stake in the Australian company in charge of the Kvanefjeld Mine. The election maintains the status quo in the rare-earths market, simultaneously preventing greater Chinese control and Western circumvention of Chinese rare-earths. For now, the US will continue to offer significant aid packages to bolster its relationship with Greenland, while Denmark will seek to exert more control over the territory for its national security implications.

  • As climate change worsens, the Arctic will play host to increased tensions between the US, Russia, China, and the Nordic states over shipping lanes and rights to natural resource extraction. Greenland will likely play a major role as a landmass for military bases, especially for Western powers. This week, satellite images revealed that Russia had expanded an Arctic military base in the last few years, signaling an emphasis on Arctic military power and threatening the demilitarization of the region.



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