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Boell Foundation: Civil Projects Need to Play a Greater Role in Afghanistan

I have interviewed the Director of the Heinrich Boell Foundation's Kabul office about yesterday's London Conference. Dr. Scheller states that along side security, the international community also needs to strengthen Afghan civil society and that Iraq does not serve as a model for Afghanistan. See video below. More information on Atlantic Community and at the website of the Boell Foundation, which is independent, but philosophically close to the German Green Party, which explains the background colors... The voters of the Green Party are more supportive of continued engagement in Afghanistan than the voters of Germany's other main parties.


On Monday I have conducted another interview: UNHCR: Tweets from the Edge: I was talking to Claudia Gonzalez, who was leading Public Relations and Special Projects at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She was using Social Media to give refugees give voice, allowing people around the world to engage in a conversation about how to improve the lives of those most affected by wars and conflict.

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

The health care debate in the United States has recently spurred a tangential conversation among pundits: Is America's or Europe's economy better? The controversy was initiated by Jim Manzi who recently wrote that Europe's bloated welfare state has destroyed its competitive advantage:
From 1980 through today, America's share of global output has been constant at about 21%. Europe's share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition - going from a little less than 40% of global production in the 1970s to about 25% today. Opting for social democracy instead of innovative capitalism, Europe has ceded this share to China (predominantly), India, and the rest of the developing world.
Paul Krugman has responded in kind, arguing:
The story you hear all the time - of a stagnant economy in which high taxes and generous social benefits have undermined incentives, stalling growth and innovation - bears little resemblance to the surprisingly positive facts. The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.
Economists and journalists have been busy debating the question. Greg Mankiw cites GDP figures to question Europe's wealth, Mark Perry compares European countries to US states, Noah Millman asks why we are asking this question, and Clive Crook says the question is unanswerable.

The debate over the economic prowess of the US and Europe recurs at regular intervals. But it rarely leaves us with any new information. To some extent, the debate sounds like two teenage students trying to prove which one is at the top of the class. At the end of the day, the economies of European countries and the United States are closely intertwined, as the recent financial crisis has demonstrated. Unfortunately, the debate over the "right" economic system may cloud the bigger opportunity: how will Europe and the United States lead the global economy in coming decades?

What do you think? Who has the better economic model? Is that the right question to be asking?

NATO to Develop Contingency Plans to Defend Baltics

“Thanks to Poland, the alliance will defend the Baltics”, reports the Economist:

IN A crunch, would NATO stand by its weakest members—the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? After five years of dithering, the answer now seems to be yes, with a decision in principle by the alliance to develop formal contingency plans to defend them.

Speaking in Prague in April 2009, President Barack Obama publicly demanded that NATO develop plans for all of its members, which put the Baltic case squarely on the alliance’s agenda. But in the months that followed, inattention and disorganisation in his administration brought no visible follow-up. Instead, snubs and missteps, particularly on the missile defence plans, deepened gloom about how seriously America took the safety concerns of its allies in Europe’s ex-communist east. An open letter by security bigwigs from Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and other countries publicly bemoaned the decline in transatlantic relations.


Now that seems to have changed. Formal approval is still pending and the countries concerned have been urged to keep it under wraps. But sources close to the talks say the deal is done: the Baltic states will get their plans, probably approved by NATO’s military side rather than its political wing. They will be presented as an annex to existing plans regarding Poland, but with an added regional dimension.

A proposal to create Baltic contingency plans has been shot down before, according to Baltic Reports:

General James Craddock, NATO’s supreme commander at the time, asked the alliance for approval of a contingency plan for the Baltics in October 2008. However Germany and France opposed the measure, fearing it would unnecessarily agitate Russia, and the issue as been debated in secret within the alliance since.

It should be interesting to see how this develops. Formal contingencies established or not, my feeling has always been that if any NATO member is attacked, the Alliance will invoke Article V, the mutual defense clause. Article V is the core foundation of the Alliance -- if NATO failed to defend one of it’s members, that would shatter the Alliance. Perhaps this perspective is too idealistic though?

Senate Report: NATO Countries Should Resume Arms Sales to Georgia

A report released by the staff of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has sparked controversy from Russia and Georgia.  Titled “Striking the Balance: U.S. Policy and Stability in Georgia,” (PDF) the report argues NATO Allies need a coordinated policy toward Georgia, and suggests it should include a resumption of arms sales that halted following the 2008 Georgia-Russia war:

The United States and NATO allies must reconcile a policy that leaves a dedicated NATO partner unable to provide for its basic defense requirements. These efforts will be most effective if they are undertaken on a multilateral basis. The Alliance must come to grips with the reality that Georgia will require coordinated security support from America and European nations for some years to come.

Particularly in the realm of security assistance, such coordination is critical. While Georgia finds itself under a de facto arms embargo, other NATO allies are pursuing record military deals with the Russian Federation. Georgia has become an exceptional contributor to international security through its contributions to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A strategy to enable Georgia to similarly provide for its own territorial defense will require close cooperation with NATO allies to preserve stability in the region. 

Following the war between Georgia and Russia, both Europe and the United States have largely stopped selling lethal military equipment to Georgia.  The United States has nonetheless continued training Georgian forces for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq under a program titled the “International Military Education and Training Program” (IMET), and funding appears to have increased for this training.  Relatively speaking, military equipment sales to Georgia were much higher than training funding up to 2008, but have dropped to zero in 2009 (see charts based on data from the Lugar report).

Georgia has embraced the report while Russia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia argue arms sales to Georgia could lead to another outbreak of violence in the region. 

Continue reading "Senate Report: NATO Countries Should Resume Arms Sales to Georgia"

The Annual "Will Europe Freeze?" Month

Ah yes, it is that wonderful time of year. Fresh snow, college football bowl games in the US, a new year...and uncertainty surrounding European energy security. Some things never seem to change.

This year adds a few new wrinkles to the annual, "Will Europe Freeze?" month however. For the first time in years, the center of energy disruption does not appear to be the Ukrainian border. Ukraine has paid in full and on time for its use of Russian gas during 2009, and both Russia and Ukraine appear determined to avoid a gas war during an election year. So this year, the energy disputes have shifted north.

First, Belarus and Russia remained locked in heated (excuse the pun) negotiations about oil supply prices between the two countries. Russia has already cut oil supplies to Belarus once this week and many analysts expect further restrictions in the weeks to come. The clash feels all too familiar: Russia, frustrated with its neighbor's overtures to the West decides to throw its weight around in the energy sector to bring it to heel. Of course, the blame also resides with Belarus which has for years subsidized its economy through cheap energy from Russia. If the country truly wants to play on the international arena, it must now be prepared to pay market prices for its resources.

Second, Lithuania has been compelled to shut down its aging nuclear power plant on New Year's Eve, leaving it completely dependent on Russia for its energy supply. The closure was required by the European Union, but leaves Lithuanians feeling very nervous. Russia has already played its energy card in the Baltic, shutting down its oil pipeline to Lithuania in 2007. Energy supply form other EU countries remains extremely weak, and a dramatic increase in energy prices is very likely for this Baltic country already struggling through an extremely difficult recession.

Finally, the UK is approaching capacity limits as it struggles with an extremely cold winter. The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Britain only has gas storage capacity equivalent to 4% of annual consumption, compared with over 100% storage in the US and 19% in Germany. And National Grid warned this week that supply will be tight in coming weeks.

None of the preceding events really come as a surprise. Despite that, Europe has again been caught off guard. The Spanish Presidency is trying to salvage a July Commission proposal regarding gas security and supply but countries continue to insist the Commission is overstepping its authority. And efforts to encourage greater infrastructure developments within Europe remain merely efforts. So what will it take to really see the development of a true European energy policy? In the US, it took two oil embargoes before the country started developing strategic reserves. And the price of oil reached $160 a barrel before consumer's behavior started to change.

Readers Pat and Pamela both suggested that the Atlantic Review analyze Russian and European energy policy in the upcoming year. This will certainly be an important topic, particularly in the first few months. But at first glance, little has changed. The Russian energy policy of 2010 seems identical to that of preceding years: throw its weight around in the natural resource arena to extract concessions in the political realm. And there still is no real European energy policy to discuss. Europe continues to shiver and simply hope the heat stays on.

What Should Atlantic Review Analyze in 2010?

Happy New Year!

Dear readers, here's your chance to influence this blog's focus in 2010: What international security and economic issues do you consider most important for North America and Europe this year? What should we focus on? Please brainstorm and discuss in the comments section.

And also please let us know what topics you are tired of. What should we write less about.

Thank you! All the best for the new decade!

What Are Your Favorite Blogs?

A new decade has started and it's high time to update our blogroll. Many previously good blogs are now inactive or boring. What blogs do you read on international politics in general and transatlantic relations in particular? Which European or North American bloggers analyze best the most important issues? Whose posts shall we feature and discuss here on Atlantic Review?

I appreciate your recommendations!!! Don't limit yourself to bloggers. Feel free to include columnists, think tankers etc. Anybody who is worth reading concerning transatlantic issues. Thank you!