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Kyle is on hiatus, but Nanne and Joerg continue with full speed

Dear friends and beloved Atlantic Review readership: 

Due to a change in profession and the subsequent time-consuming training involved in my new position I will be taking a hiatus from Atlantic Review for the next several months. 

I enjoy the privelege of writing and engaging with you on important transatlantic issues, and look forward to the day when I can return as a full editor.  In the meantime, Atlantic Review is always accepting guest articles and applications for new editors.

If you would like to get ahold of me while away, please feel free to shoot me an email at kyle.atwell [at] atlanticreview.org.

Torch passed to Obama, 44th President; top 8 transatlantic relations issues for 2009

Obama took the oath of office yesterday to become the 44th President of the United States.  The swearing-in was followed by his inaugural address, historically an opportunity for incoming presidents to be visionary and inspirational.  Some of the most famous quotes in US political history are from inaugural addresses, such as JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (1961) and FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (1933).

So how did Obama do? Was it a new landmark in the US rhetorical hall-of-fame?  If you were looking to be inspired, this speech probably fell short.  He covered all the key issues and took a "it's busines time" tone, but it did not quite carry the poetic and inspiring overtures that an inaugural address could. Or perhaps like many Americans and citizens of the world I have come to expect miracles from Obama at every turn, and have thereby set myself up for disappointment.  The full text of the speech can be found here.

Obama did have powerful words for non-Americans around the globe:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. 

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediences sake.  And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born:  know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
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NATO 2.0: Five ways Obama should bring "change" to Alliance

It is time for Obama to bring his change campaign to NATO, writes James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation in Washington Times. Carafano argues Obama should use NATO's 60th anniversary to launch a new vision for the military alliance, which he refers to as NATO 2.0. Specifically NATO needs to take action on five major issues:

1. Identify common threats; 
2. Reaffirm NATO's commitment to an open-door policy that does not give Russia veto-power;
3. Establish a more flexible decision-making process;
4. Clearly identify roles between EU and NATO, with NATO doing military and EU doing more of the constabulary non-military “soft power” missions that it excels at;
5. Develop new burden-sharing rules.

All of these are important issues that should be considered; in fact, most are  already being debated within the Alliance.  However, each of them will also face an uphill battle in the reform process.

Consider proposition five, developing new burden-sharing rules.  Carafano argues that a country should lose voting powers if it fails to match the two-percent defense spending requirement set by NATO.  At this time, only five European countries meet this requirement, three of those with declining defense budgets, according to 2007 numbers released by NATO (pdf).
 
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Europe's very cold war: Russia cuts gas to Ukraine

Ukraine enters 2009 stuck between a bear and a hard place. 

The hard place is the west, who is like a friend who always says your invitation to the party is in the mail, but it never shows up.  Since the 2004 Orange Revolution Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has pushed and pulled to move Ukraine toward EU and NATO membership, and yet its prospects remain shrouded in ambiguity.  While NATO has promised future membership someday, the Alliance decided to not move forward with Membership Action Plans for either Ukraine or Georgia at a NATO summit in December, again leaving them in limbo.  

And then there is the bear: Ukraine’s slow push west is a thorn in the toe of Russia who considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence, and is increasingly tenacious in bearing its chilling grizzly teeth.
 
2009 is not likely to bring much warmer relations for Ukraine with either the west or Russia.  I wrote about Ukraine’s improbable 2009 NATO prospects in a post titled "Why Ukrainian’s don’t want NATO".  Regarding Ukraine’s easterly neighbor, Russia has launched the new year with a cut off of gas to Ukraine leaving it and a baker's dozen of European countries with (in some cases drastically) reduced gas supplies at a time when it is cold in Europe, very cold.

The reasons for Russia’s gas power play are both economic and political

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Sarkozy pilots Middle East cease-fire talks, fills US power vacuum

Israel’s land invasion continues with the Jewish state showing little sign it is ready to negotiate a truce.  While Hamas has indicated it is prepared to begin negotiations, Israel does not intend to sit at the table with Hamas in any future negotiations, reports Haaretz:
Israel will instead seek separate agreements with moderate Arab states, with the Palestinian Authority and with the international community.

"The international community will initiate the agreements and will impose it on Hamas," [a Haaretz] source said. "The agreements will be with both the PA and Egypt and then if Hamas will not agree it will pay the price, mostly by even greater [diplomatic] isolation."
Despite disallowing signals from Israel about the prospects of their short-term success, the ever-ambitious Sarkozy is taking advantage of the US power vacuum to assume diplomatic leadership in the talks, hoping to capitalize on France’s controversially reinvigorated ties with Syria, Time reports:   
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Britain to leave Iraq (in shame?), increase troops to Afghanistan

In an anticipated move, Gordon Brown announced that the remaining 4,100 UK troops will leave Iraq by the end of July.  Mr. Brown is quoted by the BBC:
I feel that the task that we set out to do is being done and that's why we can take a decision to bring most of our forces home.
The Times Online is less cheery, characterizing Britain’s withdrawal as “a humiliating proposal that lumps the once-valued deployment with five smaller contingents, including those of Romania, El Salvador and Estonia.”

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NATO foreign ministers meeting press round-up

NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on December 2 for a two-day meeting.  The full final communiqué released by NATO can be found here

The ministerial focused primarily on the future of NATO enlargement (particularly Ukraine and Georgia), US plans for missile defense in Europe, relations with Russia (strongly related to the previous two issues), and ongoing operations (mostly on Afghanistan and to a lesser degree Kosovo). Here is a roundup of articles that address the key outcomes of the ministerial:

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Why Ukrainians don't want NATO

Between 55 to 65 percent of Ukrainians oppose joining NATO, according to recent surveys.  Andrew Bishop, a freelance journalist and blogger at What You Must Read, addresses the issue of “Why Ukrainians Don’t Want NATO” in the Diplomatic Courier:
1. “Ukraine remains an eternally “torn country” with approximately 17 percent of its population being ethnic Russian…

... after the Georgian crisis, where Russia justified its intervention in terms of defending Russian citizens, the Ukrainian authorities remained concerned that this scenario could be repeated in the Crimea.”

2. Ukraine, one of the first victims of Russia’s “energy imperialism” back in 2006 when the Kremlin cut the country’s gas supplies for several days, has no desire to experience that wrath again. Already the country’s power bill has been increasing by the year, and with winter approaching, few would argue that now is the time to test the fierceness of Moscow’s Putin-Medvedev tandem.”
And third, constant political fighting between Ukraine's political leaders means: “In short, few Ukrainians see the current period as the right one for engaging in a battle over NATO, whether it be amongst themselves or against Russia.
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