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Syria, Germany and the Europeanization of Great Britain

Great Britain became more European on Thursday, August 29th, when the parliament refused to give its Prime Minister the support he wanted (but did not need) for air strikes against Syria. Now David Cameron has been humiliated and a precedent for future war authorizations has been set.

The British public and the members of parliament are haunted by the Iraq war syndrome, tired of a decade of war, and concerned by a) lack of sufficient evidence that Syria’s military was responsible for the chemical attack, b) lack of legality and c) lack of strategy. The “special relationship” with the United States has been damaged heavily, although it must be said that its importance has been exaggerated in the past.

Britain is now more European. This could turn out to be more of a bad than a good thing, but I am optimistic as there could be more unity when strategic cultures are similar. Most other observers see this negatively, even describe Britain as turning into Switzerland or Germany. Yep, that’s supposed to be an insult.

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Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails

The United States has built huge internet surveillance infrastructures, but failed to implement its own 9/11 law about maritime cargo security.

The risks of an attack at a US port or the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (or their components) in shipping containers are big. Compared to the importance of scanning more cargo containers, the benefits of scanning emails appear quite small. What is needed is a serious debate about the right priorities for counter-terrorism and cost/benefit analysis of current policies.

While US and other Western governments claim that internet surveillance has prevented several terrorist attacks, it could also be argued that internet surveillance catches only some of the stupid terrorists, who can only pull off relatively minor attacks. (But not all of them, e.g. not the Boston bombers.)

Smart terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who have the brains and resources to kill tens of thousands of people, do not communicate over the internet. (Or they use very serious encryption, which the NSA computers won’t break in time.) They might plan sophisticated operations for American, French, Dutch or German harbors.

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Interview with France 24 about Obama Speech in Berlin

The international news channel France 24 interviewed me after the Obama speech in Berlin and gave me an opportunity to talk about nuclear arms reduction, Obama's message to Europe, German defense spending, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and more. After roasting in the sun for hours waiting for Obama and interviewing Berliners about their expectations, I got to stand under equally strong spotlights for an hour of live television.

The other participants of the debate moderated by François Picard were Tyson Barker of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington DC, Professor Anne Deysine of Paris X-Nanterre, Professor Anton Koslov of the American Graduate School of International Diplomacy, and the journalist Martin Untersinger. 

In the first video of the show I commented on Obama's statements on nuclear arms reduction and his goal of Global Zero (at 11:47 minutes). I also pointed out what I believe was Obama's most important message to Germans and Europeans in general (at 13:27 min) and called for solidarity and an increase in German defense spending to meet the NATO criteria (14:00 min). I assessed his speech in general (15:36 min) and spoke on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (16:10):


Below, the second video for the other half of the talk show begins with my comments on the high security measures for the speech, then I spoke on PRISM and data protection (12:13 min), and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) again (18:57 and at 23:38):

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Obama Criticizes Complacency in the "City of Hope"

"Hello Börlin. Thank you, Chancellor Mörkel." Obama charmed the crowd and gave an emotional boost to German-American relations, but I think his political message to Germany was too subtle and has not convinced politicians and citizens.

President Obama said that "freedom won here in Berlin", while he stood behind bullet-proof glass in a sort of aquarium... More than anything he said, it is this level of protection that convinced me that we live in a dangerous world and that we cannot take security for granted and that freedom is precious.

My video is shaky, but I think you will see that the crowd was in a great mood. Yes, it was by invitation only, but still pretty diverse:

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Germany Needs Tough Love from Obama

Berlin is excited about President Obama's upcoming visit and his speech at the Brandenburg Gate. Can he coin a memorable phrase like Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" fifty years ago? Or Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"? Will he offer Germany a different version of Bush senior's "partnership in leadership", but this time with more impact? I doubt it.

I have high hopes, but not high expectations. Yes, Obama will ask Germany to lead in Europe and beyond. He'll appeal to our responsibility, to our shared values and to the trust that has been built over six decades of transatlantic cooperation and how fundamental it is to freedom (and to all the other buzzwords). He will - hopefully - say a few nice words about our troops in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but probably ignore (or gloss over) PRISM and other controversial issues. Instead he will talk about the wonderful possibilities of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) and how it will lead to growth, strengthen our bonds and global influence and reinforce our values etc.

Obama will reassure Germany of America's continued support and solidarity, because he knows that Germans are concerned about America's pivot (balancing) to Asia and have complained that he has not visited us in his first term. [Oh, we crave so much attention and ignore that Obama has been to Europe eleven times since assuming the presidency, incl. three times to Germany. It has been my long position that Obama would have come to Berlin earlier and worked more with us, if we had make concrete suggestions for revitalized transatlantic cooperation rather than just photo-ops at various summits.]

Instead of turning his speech into a love fest for German-American relations, he should give some tough love. German citizens and politicians need a dose to understand where the United States is headed and what responsibilities Europe now has in its neighborhood.

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Britain and the World Love Germany

What a pleasant surprise! Germany is more widely seen as "having a mainly positive influence" in the world than any other country, according to the BBC World Service's Country Ratings Poll. I doubt, however, whether poll participants really meant Germany's foreign policy.

A three-point increase in Germany's average rating returned it to the top of the BBC list, displacing Japan, which saw its positive ratings drop from 58% to 51%, and fell from first to fourth place overall. (...)

In Spain, the recipient of a bailout with tight German strings attached, 68% said they felt Germany had "a mainly positive influence in the world".

In Britain, it was even higher at 78%. In France 81% - the poll indicates that four in every five French people look over the border with approval!

Only Greece maintains its Germanophobia, with 52% giving a negative rating.

Will the poll matter? It might well. It may confirm German ministers in their belief that tough love is true friendship.

Re the last sentence: I doubt that people consider tough love in the euro-crisis as a true friendship.

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Germany's Defense and Contributions to NATO in Times of Austerity

RAND has published an interesting report about "NATO and the Challenges of Austerity" by F. Stephen Larrabee, Stuart E. Johnson, John Gordon IV, Peter A. Wilson, Caroline Baxter, Deborah Lai, Calin Trenkov-Wermuth in 2012, available for free download as PDF and also as e-book. The focus is on the defense capabilities of United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Poland.

The analysis and conclusions are clear and without exaggerations and the fear-mongering that is quite common in many articles about this topic. RAND is concerned that "the air, land, and sea forces of key European allies are reaching the point at which they can perform only one moderate-sized operation at a time and will be hard-pressed to meet the rotation requirements of a protracted, small-scale irregular warfare mission." but also states that "in conclusion, NATO's defense capabilities (i.e., including U.S. forces) are more than adequate to deter a classic Article V contingency. The West would have sufficient warning of any Russian military build-up to take the necessary countermeasure to deter an attack." This unlikely scenario is NATO's core mission in the eyes of most Europeans, I believe, and the reason why NATO is "still seen as essential by 62% of EU and 62% of U.S. respondents" according to the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends survey.

NATO, however, has many more tasks in addition to Article V and therefore I agree with RAND that there is a danger that NATO will lose critical capabilities, If the current uncoordinated process of budget cuts and reductions by Member states intensifies.

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US Army Tanks Out, German Navy Ships In

The Times They Are a-Changin: The last 22 Abrams tanks of the US Army have left Germany. From Stars & Stripes:

From World War II on through the Cold War, tanker units were a heavy presence in Germany. At its peak, Germany was home to 20 NATO armored divisions, or about 6,000 tanks, according to the 21st TSC. "There is no [U.S.] tank on German soil. It's a historic moment," said Lt. Col. Wayne Marotto, 21st TSC spokesman.

Meanwhile, the US Navy (h/t Marian) reports:

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