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Franz Josef Jung, Germany's former defense minister and current labor minister, resigned on Friday over his handling of a controversial airstrike in Afghanistan. Germany's top soldier Inspector General Schneiderhan and Deputy Defense Minister Wichert resigned on Thursday, reports Spiegel (in English).

The Bundestag's defense committee will most likely establish a parliamentary investigation into the affair, which could erode public support for the Afghanistan mission even further.

The good news is that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany's current defense minister, has had a promising start since taking over in early October and has started making the necessary changes. "From referring to the Afghanistan mission as a 'war' to announcing a slight increase in troop numbers, he has gained the support of the military," writes Spiegel (in English) in another article.

Endnote: Change has come to Atlantic Review in the form of a software upgrade. Please don't hesitate to contact the editorial team at "AR-team ÄT atlanticreview DOT org", if there is any technical problem. Registered users might have to login in again, before they can comment. Login is here.

Central Europe is its own Best Friend

A few weeks ago, Poland's defense minister made the following appeal, reported in the Telegraph:
Radek Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, said he was alarmed by recent military exercises conducted by the Russian army in Belarus, a country that borders Poland, and wanted the US military as a counterweight.

"We would like to see US troops stationed in Poland to serve as a shield against Russian aggression," he said.

"If you can still afford it, we need some strategic reassurance."
It is hard to see why Sikorski would be so deeply worried by a military exercise featuring 900 tanks when Poland itself has more than that at hand. In an interview for Czech television, Zbigniew Brzezinski told East Europeans to grow up:
East Europeans should stop behave like small children, start to deal with their own problems by themselves and not to go to the United States complaining about Russian aggressiveness, for instance, Zbigniew Brzezinski said in in interview for the public Czech Television
Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic should be able to take care of their own - conventional - defence concerns to a large extent. Especially if they cooperate. They are both richer than Russia per head, they're not too small, and they have access to superior conventional technology. Meanwhile, the SIPRI database shows that Poland spent 2% of its GDP per year on defence in 2007, and the Czech Republic 1.4%. This compares to 3.5% for Russia and 4% for the United States.

(via, and via)

Europe's New Chairman and Envoy

The New York Times writes about the two new (or upgraded) posts that were filled in for the European Union yesterday:
Leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union on Thursday night chose Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian prime minister, as the European Union’s first president, and Catherine Ashton of Britain, currently the bloc’s trade commissioner, as its high representative for foreign policy. The vote was unanimous.

Both officials are highly respected but little known outside their own countries. After the European Union’s eight-year battle to rewrite its internal rules and to pass the Lisbon Treaty that created these two new jobs, the selection of such low-profile figures seemed to highlight Europe’s problems instead of its readiness to take a more united and forceful place in world affairs.
The eurosceptic British newspaper The Telegraph noted the following press reactions:
Spain's El Pais said the EU will be "led by two dull and low-profile figures."

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau claimed the 27-nation bloc will be represented by "leaders with no sparkle, without a vision and even without experience in the required fields".

France's Liberation newspaper noted that EU leaders had rejected candidates from the bloc's newest members in eastern Europe but had at least chosen a woman to fill one of the posts.
Neither the American nor the British press have much grasp of what these posts entail or how the EU works in general. To be fair, it can be complicated. But the British media have vastly exaggerated the importance of the President of the European Council, and to a lesser extent, also of the High Representative. The way these posts are written down in the Treaties mean they are little more than a chairman and a souped-up envoy for the Member States. So what we have is European Union in choosing competent, low-key people for senior posts shocker.

Obviously, this means that Europe is doomed.

(hat-tip to Joerg for forwarding these articles)

Germany Blocks EU-US Bank Data Agreement

An agreement negotiated between the US and the EU on sharing bank data in the context of antiterrorism has just been blocked by Germany, France, Finland and Austria. This shift in German policy signals general political changes that will continue to impact transatlantic relations.

  • Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, German Minister of Justice, has a strong socially liberal profile. She had the same post in a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition in the '90s and resigned when her party agreed to far-reaching surveillance measures, eventually turning to bring a case before Germany's constitutional court that overturned much of the legislation.
  • This move has happened in the EU at the ambassador level of the Council, in anticipation of a decision that would have been taken on November 30th. That is, one day ahead of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which will give the European Parliament the power to vote on this matter. The European Parliament, which wants to add significant protections or indefinitely shelve this agreement, was outraged by these plans. This procedural concern was also noted by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

Changes in Germany's coalition following the victory of the CDU/CSU and FDP have resulted in a more liberal profile on internal security matters.
Continue reading "Germany Blocks EU-US Bank Data Agreement"

Afghanistan: Blame Game rather than Great Game

Who is to blame that we are not winning in Afghanistan? Karzai, Obama, NATO, the Europeans, or Jimmy Carter again? Afghanistan's President Karzai was criticized a lot lately. Now the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens comes to his defense and puts the blame on NATO. He makes the dubious claim that:

Matters went abruptly south in Afghanistan after several years in which they had gone swimmingly well under Mr. Karzai, including a thriving economy, girls back in school, people having access to health care and so on. The answer has a lot less to do with Mr. Karzai's performance than with NATO's.

"Abruptly south"? "Swimmingly well"? Oh please! Perhaps Stephens was like most of the US media so fixated on Iraq and domestic politics that he ignored Afghanistan.

Yeah, sure, I wish NATO had been more successful in Afghanistan, but let's not forget that the United States first did not want NATO's help in Afghanistan, because the Bush advisors thought that NATO was not up to it, then they asked NATO to play an ever bigger role anyway because they wanted to focus on Iraq and thought they needed NATO's help in Afghanistan.

If the US had not pulled resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, then Afghanistan and Pakistan might be in a better shape today. If this turns into a new transatlantic blame game, the Europeans will focus on US neglect of Afghanistan in the early and very decisive years.

John Hannah blames NATO more strongly in Foreign Policy:

Despite repeated assurances from Washington, the Afghans palpably feared that the transition to NATO reflected the start of America's ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Psychologically, this perception of declining U.S. commitment almost certainly had the dual effect of dangerously demoralizing the Afghan government and people (resulting in counter-productive hedging behavior), while emboldening the Taliban.

Similarly, the Pakistani government -- believing the United States to be once again headed for the Afghan exits -- was encouraged even further in its double game of maintaining an "option" for returning a friendly Taliban to power in Kabul.

Militarily, the shift to NATO, particularly in the south, undeniably resulted in a significant loss of combat effectiveness on perhaps the war's most important front. While America's British, Dutch, and Canadian allies fought valiantly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, they were no match -- frequently by their own admission -- for the extraordinary fighting skills of their U.S. counterparts.  With only some exaggeration, a senior Afghan official once told President Bush that 800 U.S. troops had generated a greater sense of security and well-being among the population in Helmand than 8,000 NATO forces.

Very interesting. (Emphasis was added by me.)

Still, the opposite argument can be made that America's heavy reliance on airstrikes has harmed the US image in the region and contributed to the rising insurgency. Only recently the US reversed its policy from focusing their "extraordinary fight skills" on insurgents to providing security for Afghans. The US army is now doing the kind of "social work," which Europeans got ridiculed by parts of the US media for. It seems US strategy is now more in line with European ideas. Without NATO troops the United States would need to rely even more on airstrikes and cause more civilian casualties.

Former US Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter and Leo Michel from the National Defense University have written a good reminder on the importance of allies Keeping our Allies on our Side, which starts with a great quote by Winston Churchill: "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them."

That Vision Thing (Or: The Best of Atlantic Review)

This is a guest post from our long-time reader and commenter John Hadjisky, who comments as "John in Michigan" on Atlantic Review

I've been thinking about how to explain the trans-Atlantic relationship to an average citizen on either side, in broad strokes. Part of the problem is a lack of common vocabulary. Here on Atlantic Review we tend to bash away at that problem using a combination of rants and highly technical analysis. I have nothing but praise for a good rant, especially one that attracts readers. But, rants have obvious problems. Technical arguments, meanwhile, at best are wonkish, and at worst are nit-picking.

Occasionally, however, we get some real gems here. So for my first official guest post, I decided to mine the archives and highlight what I like best about Atlantic Review. I hope everyone will add their own "best of" links.

Continue reading "That Vision Thing (Or: The Best of Atlantic Review)"

Angela Merkel in Washington DC

I wonder what the Obama team is asking the Merkel team right now.

The German election campaign is over. So is the grace period for tough demands for more German support, which the Obama administration probably gave the German government due to the unpopularity of the Afghanistan war.

Angela Merkel also had her big day at Congress calling upon US lawmakers to sign up to internationally binding obligations that global warming must not exceed two degrees celsius. (That's good and brave, but won't help to win friends at Congress.)

Addressing a joint session of Congress was a great honor that comes at a price, says Josef Braml of the German Council on Foreign Relations: "It is a gesture where a service is expected in return: the German government should do more to help shoulder the burden of international commitments." Braml said according to AFP that "the grace period is over -- now we need to deliver."

The AFP article also points out that Merkel's new foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, managed to insert a passage into the coalition agreement calling for the estimated 10 to 20 US nuclear warheads in Germany to be removed.

I wonder how team Obama is responding to all that. Are they having tough and frank talks with team Merkel right now? Will anything happen? Reinvigoration of transatlantic cooperation?

Endnote: And the American people? Is Merkel's speech getting noticed and discussed by anyone but the policy wonks and a few bloggers? After all, Merkel is supposed to be "Europe's quiet leader" is according to Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum:

She is, if you like, the anti-Obama: zero charisma, zero glamour, beige pantsuits and a spouse who rarely appears in public. And yet, partly by default and partly by design, Merkel is now the de facto leader of Europe. (.) Under her watch, Germany has continued to grow more powerful, more influential, more dominant than ever before. Yet not only has no one noticed, they applaud and ask for more. If a bull-necked Helmut Kohl or a flashy Gerhard Schroeder were running Germany, there would be rising anxiety and mumbling about the Fourth Reich -- just as there was 20 years ago, at the time of German reunification, when Kohl was still in charge. But Merkel provokes no jealousy or competitiveness among the alpha males who run large countries, and she inspires no fear among the citizens of smaller ones.