Wait… I thought we were doing a Pacific pivot.

In a move which I suppose can be dropped into the category of better late than never, the President is requesting a fourfold increase in military spending for operations in Eastern Europe, presumably in support of the EU against increasing tensions with Russia. Relations over there have been on edge ever since Putin went into Ukraine and our allies have been understandably nervous about the level of support they could expect from the United States. This may be a signal that Barack Obama is ready to play hardball if push comes to shove. (CNN)

President Barack Obama’s administration said Tuesday it was seeking to expand U.S. military spending in Europe four-fold in a bid to reassure allies still unsettled by Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

The new spending would increase to $3.4 billion under the new plan, which is set to be formally unveiled next week as part of Obama’s final presidential budget.

The Pentagon also said Tuesday it was ramping up spending for the battle against ISIS, doubling last year’s request to $7 billion.

The White House said that figure would allow for “continuous U.S. armored brigade rotations” through stations in central and eastern Europe, as well as ramped-up U.S. participation in NATO military exercises and the deployment of additional combat vehicles and supplies to the region.

Russia was quick to label the announcement, “destabilizing and detrimental to the European security.” If nothing else we seem to have gotten their attention, but our relationship with both the EU and Russia has gone well beyond the stage of simply being “complicated.” Think about it for a moment… Russia’s incursion into Ukraine was pulled off with very little in the way of a challenge from the west. That’s had our allies looking sideways at us, wondering if we actually had their backs. But at the same time, we’re allegedly on the same side as Russia in Iraq (along with Iran, in one of the great ironies of our time) in the battle against ISIS. Meanwhile, in Syria, we’re supposed to be fighting the common enemy (ISIS again) but the Russians are backing the play of Bashar al-Assad. This became even more clear when Russian commandos and aircraft were seen supporting their latest incursion against the Syrian Rebels who we ostensibly support.

While I’ll generally take any positive move by the White House these days with a large grain of salt, this could be the ideal time to strengthen our military relationship with the EU. We’ve recently begun exporting not only crude oil, but natural gas as well to Europe. Their dependence on Russia for their energy supplies is somewhat lessened and they might be able to act a bit more boldly in the face of aggression from Putin without fear of having the pipelines cut off. Anything that weakens Putin’s hand along his western flank could result in the Russians being a bit more willing to come to the table in other areas. Of course, Putin has been spitting in our eye for so long now I’m not sure how much he’ll be cowed by this seemingly stronger stance.

Going back to that Pacific pivot for a moment, there was one more piece of news from that part of the world to keep an eye on. The North Koreans announced this week that they plan on launching a satellite in the near future.

North Korea has indicated that it will launch a satellite sometime between February 8-25, a United Nations agency said Tuesday, drawing condemnation from South Korea and Japan.

North Korea told the International Telecommunication Union on Tuesday that it intends to launch an Earth observation satellite, ITU spokesman Sanjay Acharya said. The ITU registers all satellite transmission frequencies to ensure there is no cross-satellite interference.

South Korea condemned the planned launch as a “direct challenge against the international community,” and warned that North Korea would pay a “grave price” if it went ahead.

Having a satellite is no big deal in most cases, but the North Korean situation makes it special. If they can really put one into orbit it raises questions about just how far their long range missile capabilities have come. Also, what do they plan on doing with the satellite, and what else might they put on those missiles? Of course, it could all be a PR stunt which will fail spectacularly, as with many of Kim’s claims, but they’re clearly continuing to work on the technology. The international situation is heating back up and we’d best hope that Barack Obama is up to the job.