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Germany Becomes "Normal" and More Selfish

On May 1, 2009, ten countries celebrate their fifth birthday as EU members, but eight of them don't get a birthday present from Germany. Berlin announced this week that it was keeping labor restrictions on workers from European countries. The Economist concludes: "As Germany becomes 'normal,' it looks a bit more national and a bit less European."

The true turning-point for Germany was 1998, he says, when Gerhard Schröder defeated the CDUs Helmut Kohl for the chancellorship. During his campaign, Mr Schröder accused Mr Kohl of putting European interests ahead of German ones. He had a point: Mr Kohl pushed through the single currency even though most German voters opposed it, and nasty EU rows about money usually ended with Mr Kohl pulling out Germanys chequebook. Mr Schröder was less community-minded, happy to shout, Germany is not paying for this one, at summits. It was under Mr Schröder that Germany began its quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, after years of seeking a single place for the EU. Today the picture is mixed. Ms Merkel is less impatient at EU summits than Mr Schröder. But, unlike Mr Kohl, she brings no retinue of smaller countries as allies to every meeting. And despite the recent display of Franco-German unity at the G20 gathering in London, she neither trusts nor likes Frances Nicolas Sarkozy.

German security and defense policy has become more "normal" as well, and every politician will note the huge changes at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall later in November this year. But: There are still so many shortcomings and so little strategic thinking, at least publicly.

BTW: Last night, the Atlantic Council of the United States has awarded George H.W. Bush and Helmut Kohl the Distinguished International Leader Award in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and their role in ensuring the Cold War ended peacefully. That was quite an achievement, which too many people seem to take for granted this days, although so much could have gone wrong. Kohl's strategic thinking as well as his "chequebook diplomacy" and "community-mindedness" -- to use two terms from the Economist article -- paid off.

Economic Crisis: Springtime for Hitler?

Mel Brooks musical "The Producers" will be performed in Berlin in May, writes Der Spiegel (in English). It's not that much of a controversy. Just the usual "Should one be allowed to laugh about Hitler?" newspaper articles.

A bit more shocking is the comment by the heads of the Federation of German Trade Unions Michael Sommer, who suggested that Nazis might rise outside the cinemas as well. DW World:

In an interview with Germany's ARD television, Sommer warned of social unrest comparable to that in the 1930s - when widespread poverty paved the way for the Nazi regime's rise to power. The projected economic contraction of up to six percent is comparable with data from the years 1930, 1931 and 1932, Sommer said.

The article also mentions the violent workers protests in France...

Continue reading "Economic Crisis: Springtime for Hitler?"

"Obama's Popularity Doesn't Mean Much Abroad"

"It's  not too early to render a preliminary judgment on Team Obama's foreign policy, says Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly Die Zeit: "The basic lesson, alas, is that nice guys don't do better than meanies like Mr. Bush."

Apparently Joffe and the Wall Street Journal editors, who published his op-ed (HT: John), think that Americans need to be reminded of the obvious: Obama's charisma has its limits abroad. Joffee brings up that old quote about "nations having everlasting interests rather than eternal friends or enemies" and translates it into today's language:

Interest beats affection any time. Mrs. Merkel surely knows how enthralled her country is with Mr. Obama. But that's not enough to place German soldiers in harm's way in Afghanistan, or to run up the national debt in a country that is traumatized by inflation.

Why is it necessary to state the obvious?

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and the Nameless Aidworkers Around the World

When Marla Ruzicka got killed in Bagdad on April 16, 2005, many US newspapers had long and impressive obituaries about the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), who convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" in a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article. The Boston Globe wrote:

Virtually alone, she directed attention and resources to the invisible victims of war. She moved the military without using force, galvanized official Washington without powerful connections, and motivated the press without sensationalism.

Four years later not a single newspaper reminds us of her untimely death, according to Google News, even though CIVIC is still very active around the world and blogs as well.

Unfortunately, the media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. The nameless humanitarians, who don't just talk and write, but risk their lives to help others don't get awards or much press coverage. Their sacrifice is often only acknowledged, when they get killed or as a statistic, like earlier this month, when several media outlets covered the new report from the Overseas Development Institute (pdf), which states that 2008 was the most dangerous year on record for humanitarian aid workers:

Last year 260 humanitarian aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks - the highest annual toll on record. Kidnappings have increased 350% since 2006 and the fatality rate of aid workers from malicious acts surpassed that of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers in 2008.

More about Marla Ruzicka's accomplishments in these Atlantic Review posts:

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there 

"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka 

Marla Ruzicka: Civilian Victims of War

Kos Poll: Americans love France and Europe

The left-wing US blog Daily Kos has let Research 2000 do a poll on some of the purported 'boogeymen' of the right, including France and Europe. It turns out that France and Europe are almost universally loved by Americans. France has a 66 to 26 favourability rating, and for Europe the rating is 63 to 29. Favourable opinions of France and Europe exist across ethnic groups and party lines, but there is some regional difference: southerners have an evenly split opinion of both France and Europe.

This is quite a dramatic shift in opinion among the American population from four years ago, when the (more conservative) pollster Rasmussen reported that 57% of Americans held an unfavourable opinion of France.

Opinions of France have probably improved as a result of the improved political relationship that started with the election of Sarkozy, and were reinforced by the election of Obama. At the same time, they might deteriorate again if there is another major diplomatic disagreement between the two countries. Right now, the French and Americans have important reasons to stick together as they are both threatened with 'revenge' by Somali pirates...

NATO Gives US-led "Coalitions of the Willing" Multilateral Legitimacy

"NATO offers the United States the useful stamp of multilateral legitimacy without really imposing too many limits on America's foreign  policy," says Dutch political scientist Peter van Ham. In consequence, recent NATO missions have been "devoid of the unity and coherence that the old NATO had" and US, German and Dutch units pursue different strategies in Afghanistan, adds Paul Hockenos, who quotes van Ham in A new Transatlantic Partnership: Rethinking US-Europe Relations.

Hockenos is a US analyst and editor of the German Council on Foreign Relations' journal Internationale Politik Global Edition. He concludes on NATO:

It is questionable whether this new NATO is still a transatlantic institution worthy of the label. Despite its multilateral structure, NATO has become a clearing house for US-led "coalitions of the willing," which alliance members-and non-members-can join on a case-by-case basis. For all intents and purposes, it is a group of like-minded democracies that Washington can call upon á la carte. The Europeans bear none of the roles and responsibilities of even junior partners as they did in the past, but rather serve as occasional helpers, as was the case in the invasion and pacification of Afghanistan. The more nations there are in the alliance, the larger the possible constellation for these pick-up coalitions. This is one reason the Americans above all push for NATO's expansion.

Well, the United States has global interests and ambitions and would like NATO to pursue those interests. The Europeans have much more limited interests and ambitions and are therefore unwilling to give the necessary resources to NATO. The situation that Hockenos and van Ham describe is the result from this mismatch of interests and ambitions. It is not due to some sinister US plan. And Hockenos "partnership of equals" is not the solution, since it won't materialize due to the different capabilities, interests and ambitions.

Since the United States does not get much military support from most European countries, the "useful stamp of multilateral legitimacy" is the biggest benefit for Washington. Although this "stamp" does not have the kind of legal legitimacy that only UN Security Council resolution can provide, it is big enough for each and every US administration to continue to invest plenty of resources into NATO. Never mind how many conservative US bloggers and pundits complain about NATO. These criticism are as old as NATO is.