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Guido Westerwelle, new German Minister of Foreign Affairs, is a paradoxical figure. In his current positions, which also include being party leader of the FDP and Vice-Chancellor, he's followed in the footsteps of FDP legend Hans-Dietrich Genscher. But foreign policy is not his strength, and the future of the FDP as well as Westerwelle may depend upon him keeping a clear profile on domestic politics.

Westerwelle had something of a false start into his new role when a BBC correspondent asked him a question in English:

Another YouTube video showing Westerwelle as he tries to speak English has since attracted over one million views, and the social media hilarity has increased with a Twitter channel called 'WesterWave' in which the new German 'outside minister' posts regular updates in a kind of English only people who speak German will understand.

The upshot of this is that it is now normal for young educated Germans to be able to speak English fluently and they expect this from their Minister of Foreign Affairs as well. Young educated Germans are a tiny electoral minority, though, and Westerwelle should just stick to German, and translators.
Continue reading "Westerwenglisch"

Europe? Yawn

This is a guest post from Andrew Zvirzdin.  Originally from upstate New York, Andrew is currently finishing his second year of grad school at the Maxwell School in Syracuse.

Exciting things have been happening in Europe this fall, and indeed for much of this year. Federal elections in Germany, the Lisbon referendum in Ireland, and the intense public debate on Afghanistan in the UK and Germany are all events that have significant repercussions for the United States. Yet many Americans do not seem to have noticed all that much.

To be sure, some discussion of Europe continues to pop up during the American health care debate, but the caricatures painted are grossly distorted and nearly unrecognizable. (Who knew that the UK hated senior citizens so much?) According to Anne Applebaum at, Europe is really only good for photo-ops and speech-making. Considering the intense transatlantic soul-searching after the Iraq War and the prominent roll Europe played in last year's presidential campaign, the American ennui with Europe is somewhat surprising.

My suspicion is that the lack of interest in Europe is only a reflection of America's decreasing attention span. Particularly as the economic crisis leads leaders and citizens to focus inwards, public interest is best captured by flashy slogans and polarizing phrases. Complex discussions about strengthening stable partnerships quickly lose public appeal in the Twitter era. America's relationship with European countries does not fit well in an era of resurging partisan politics and cable television.

Failing to capture the public attention is fine as long as public officials continue to engage with each other. Important discussions concerning the future of NATO, the Open Skies Initiative, and international financial regulation are all currently taking place, with significant consequences for both Europe and the US. Sometimes the most fruitful discussions occur under the radar of public interest. But the danger is that public officials will lose interest themselves; they are after all beholden to the people. For now at least, the important discussions are ongoing.

The paradox is similar to what the European Union faces with its members. Slow, steady, and boring progress has benefitted EU citizens without anyone really noticing, and that is the problem. Citizens of EU countries do not realize how valuable the Union is to economic growth and international competitiveness; likewise, Americans do not recognize how valuable its European allies are in promoting stability and security around the world. Unfortunately, until transatlantic leaders learn to distill the value and importance of Europe in 140 characters or less, many Americans will continue to yawn at the "Old Continent."

Obama: Peace Prize is 'Affirmation of American Leadership'

US President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel peace prize, but stated that "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

This speech has made clear that Obama sees himself as re-establishing American soft power. What should he do with the 10 million Swedish Kronor?

Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Will he accept? Should he?

From the Committee:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.
Even if Obama's efforts may be remarkable, they're efforts. Not results. Similarly, while giving hope for a better future is a form of progress in itself and shouldn't be discounted, it's not as satisfying as actually delivering substantial progress. Now, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has jumped the shark a few times before and has still continued to stay prominent in the global imagination. So they will likely get over whatever controversy this generates. But this is one prematurely awarded prize.

What are the Consequences of Lisbon?

Now that Ireland has approved of the Lisbon Treaty by referendum and will soon have ratified, the immediate attention is going to be on the presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic. However, even eurosceptic blogger and UK Indepence Party spokesperson Gawain Towler does not see a prospect of the treaty being delayed long enough for a future Tory government to put it to a referendum.

This does not necessarily mean that independence has become impossible under the new European 'superstate' - as the sceptics would characterise the amended institutional structure. Our commenter John in Michigan points out that the treaty arranges for a procedure to let Member States exit the Union. There was no previous arrangement for such matters, which does not mean that leaving the Union was impossible, just that it would have to be sorted out under the very unclear rules of customary international law.

European defence policy and European foreign policy should be the main fields that benefit from Lisbon. In European defence policy, it will become possible to go ahead with integration in a smaller group if some states do not want to go along. The foreign policy of the European Union has previously been largely reducible to 'enlargement'. One thing the EU lacked was a professional diplomatic service. Another problem was the continuing wide divergence of perceived interests between Member States. Given that foreign policy will continue to be conducted by unanimity, the question whether a coherent policy will emerge - and how soon and for which reasons - will be a nice test of foreign policy doctrines.

Georgia Started the South Ossetia War

Map of GeorgiaOver a year after the fact, that is the central conclusion of a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union, which was released today. To a fair amount of international attention. The BBC has a write-up, including a pdf of the report. And even the Wall Street Journal, which has published a fair amount of columns by the Georgian President Saakashvili, had a headline that reads 'Report: Georgia Triggered War With Russia' (via Jerome).

The report itself is readable, and contains a useful timeline of the events. It is also critical of Russia, which is found to have reacted disproportionally to the attacks. In fact, no one comes away well from the report. It even ventures into some muted criticism of the support for the buildup of the Georgian army by the United States, which it calls a 'sensitive issue', while calling for such military support to 'stay within the boundaries set by common sense and due diligence'.

But, wait a second, no one? Well, there is one French President...
After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the latter acting on behalf of the European Union. An implementation agreement followed on 8 September 2008, again largely due to the persistent efforts of the French President. This successful political action stood in contrast to the failure of the international community, including the UN Security Council, to act swiftly and resolutely enough in order to control the ever-mounting tensions prior the outbreak of armed conflict.
That is actually clear language. Continue reading "Georgia Started the South Ossetia War"