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Europe Does Not Need American Protection Anymore

NATO does very good work every day, but it is "a bit of an anachronism." 9/11 has accelerated the divergence of European and American geostrategic interests. Europe does not need American protection anymore, with the exception of the nuclear guarantee, says Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

He gave an excellent and forthright speech at the Heinrich Boell Foundation's Annual Foreign Policy Conference on the transatlantic security architecture and European defense efforts.

I very much agree with his description of European mainstream perceptions of and positions on security. At a time when so many US journalists and pundits are questioning the relevance of NATO and express their increasing disappointment with the Europeans, I would like to recommend the ten minute video below to better understand why most European countries are not spending more on defense and do not send more troops to US led wars.

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Understanding Germany

The Wall Street Journal published a special feature on Germany (via: Daniel Florian), which is very positive about our economy and fair in its analysis of our foreign policy. The feature even includes reading tips on how to best to understand Germany from Chancellor Merkel and two foreign policy experts. All books are great and highly recommended, I have not read Günter de Bruyn's book though.

The main article What is Germany's place in the world: a leader, or another Switzerland? describes how President Obama honored Merkel with a State Dinner and the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 7, tactfully suggesting "Germany could be doing more to help out with international conflicts." And what is Merkel doing in return? She puts out the red carpet for China's Wen Jiabao and hosts the first meeting of German and Chinese cabinets.

The WSJ goes even so far as to turn Foreign Minister Westerwelle's statement on the Libya vote into a new foreign-policy doctrine that values China, Russia, Brasil and India as much as the Western allies:

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"German Soldiers Can't Shoot"

The Daily Beast published the article German Soldiers Can't Shoot by German journalist Stefan Theil about "Leaked reports question the competence of the German army, which has thousands of troops serving in Afghanistan":

"German soldiers mostly don't know how to use their weapons." They "have no or little experience driving armored vehicles." For German field commanders, "the necessity and ways [to protect their units from roadside bombs] are to a large extent either unknown or incorrect." These are quotes from a series of secret internal reports on the German army, the Bundeswehr, whose 5,000 soldiers in the northern Kunduz sector of Afghanistan were supposed to help the U.S. rout the Taliban and stabilize the country over the past 10 years.

The reports are from 2009 and 2010 and were leaked to the Bild, a German tabloid that is Europe's highest-circulation newspaper. [Bundeswehrbericht enthüllt: Afghanistan-Soldaten können nicht richtig schießen] But they are an indication of the poor state of the Bundeswehr, which only two years ago even started fighting in Afghanistan. Before that, they weren't allowed to shoot except in self-defense, and only after they had shouted repeated warnings in the local language.

Only two years ago? Hm, I thought the policy change was earlier, but I must have been mistaken.

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The Pacific Century

Stop complaining about Europe. Rather focus on Asia. That's the advice from Richard Haas (David), president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, in response to Secretary Gates' speech.

Asia is increasingly the center of gravity of the world economy; the historic question is whether this dynamism can be managed peacefully. The major powers of Europe - Germany, France and Great Britain - have reconciled, and the regional arrangements there are broad and deep. In Asia, however, China, Japan, India, Vietnam, the two Koreas, Indonesia and others eye one another warily. Regional pacts and arrangements, especially in the political and security realms, are thin. Political and economic competition is unavoidable; military conflict cannot be ruled out. Europeans will play a modest role, at best, in influencing these developments.

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"NATO is Like A Boyfriend/Girlfriend That Won't Commit"

While most US commentators seem to support Secretary Gates criticism of NATO's European members, many also express an understanding of Europe's position and call upon US policy makers to draw the appropriate conclusions rather than to keep asking Europeans to increase their defense spending.

Perhaps they should read the book "He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys" by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, because most Europeans these days are just not that into fighting wars outside of Europe.

Michael Cohen compares NATO to A Boyfriend/Girlfriend That Won't Commit:

So you ever know those couples where one of the two really wants to get married, settle down and have kids and the other one just refuses to commit and is evasive about the future of the relationship . . . I think this is a good descriptor of the US-NATO alliance today. (...)

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We need to appreciate each other!

Russell Berman responded to our criticism with an update below his Daily Beast article that is longer than his original article.

This is my response: Yes, the United States started an impressive surge in Afghanistan last year, while the European NATO members "just" increased their troops. This means that the share of European compared to US troops is today lower than it used to be. The US surge, however, is temporary and Obama is expected to declare soon how many troops he will withdraw. European countries are sovereign and are not obligated to follow every US policy decision.

Moreover, this does not change the fact that Berman was factually wrong in stating that the Obama administration "was completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments" and "some [European allies], like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn." Professor Berman's claim that it is "hard" "to find Europeans on the front lines," is wrong and insensitive to the families of dead soldiers.

Such statements will not encourage Europeans to increase their support US led wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which is Prof Berman's goal. Today, nearly ten years after 9/11, European countries have 37,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's an increase of 11,000 troops since Obama became president. Why is not Berman acknowledging this at all? Think about all the European families who have a loved one in Afghanistan!

Only if US think tankers appreciate the European contributions to Afghanistan, is there a chance that Europe continues to follow the US leadership and support the wars that the US political and think tank elite (but not the public) cares about.

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Press Round-up of Secretary Gates Criticism of NATO

I have already commented on Secretary Gates farewell message about NATO's "dim, if not dismal" future, if European NATO members do not share more of the burden.

Professor Juan Cole offers a similar short "translation" of Secretary Gates words and his own comments in his popular "Informed Comment" blog:

Shorter SecDef Robert Gates: European members of NATO need to bankrupt themselves with military spending and wars just as the United States has done, or else the US Congress will stop being willing to support NATO's war efforts.

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Europe's Contributions to Afghanistan Should be Recognized

Four Bundeswehr soldiers were killed in three attacks in Afghanistan's North in the last two weeks. Two in three Germans want their country to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. The German government, however, stays the course. (Focus Magazine in German.)

Why? Because of a threat from Afghanistan to Germany? No, Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not need a safe haven at the Hindu Kush, but can plan terrorist attacks in Hamburg etc. As Ahmed Rashid notes, "not ever, has an Afghan Talib been involved in global jihad."

Rather, we have invested so much in Afghanistan, that we cannot afford to see it all fail. Moreover, we are still in Afghanistan after nine years as a matter of solidarity with NATO and especially with the United States due to the 9/11 attacks.

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