Skip to content

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.

Continue reading "Germany Needs Tough Love from Obama"

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.

Continue reading "Britain and the World Love Germany"

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.

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

Germany's Best

70 years ago today, three members of the White Rose resistance group were executed. From June 1942 until February 1943 they produced and distributed six flyers. Sophie and Hans Scholl were arrested, when they were caught in the act at the University of Munich. They were only 21 and 24 years old.

Today, most of us live in peace and enjoy freedom. Every Blogger, Tweeter and Facebook user has their own "printing press" and considers it normal to share their views. I thought it's worthwhile to commemorating this anniversary. And if you are feeling very happy and want to be sad (for some reason), then watch The Final Days, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. The screenplay has used the transcripts from the interrogations, which became available after the GDR collapsed.

In 2003, the public television program "Unsere Besten" (Our Best) polled viewers to select the most important Germans of all time. The Scholl siblings finished fourth place.

Continue reading "Germany's Best"

Why is the NY Times so interested in Berlin?

It seems that Germany has become super important for the United States. At least I got the impression that the NYT is featuring my country more prominently these days. Alas, not in foreign policy. Rather on sexism, swabian separatists, comedians, and "creative types":

1. Today: "Germany's Sexism Provokes Backlash" by Melissa Eddy and Chris Cottrell. A serious topic, which is very popular on Twitter at the moment.

2. Eleven days ago: "Swabian Separatists Fling Spätzle to Make a Point" by Nicholas Kulish:

Continue reading "Why is the NY Times so interested in Berlin?"

A Tale of Two Cities

I was not that impressed by Obama's speech yesterday, but I strongly believe that Europe can learn a lot from the inauguration. Take for instance today's German/French celebrations of the Elysée Treaty.

The French parliamentarians and many ministers commemorated the 50th anniversary with their German counterparts in the Bundestag. That's a great gesture. I listened to Lammert and Hollande during my lunch break. It was okay, but rhetorically far from the level of Obama. And I missed the hope and vision thing. My main criticism, however, is the lack of big public celebrations.

Continue reading "A Tale of Two Cities"

Germany's Lost Credibility at NATO

The Spiegel article "Germany's Reputation in NATO Has Hit Rock Bottom" by Ulrike Demmer and Christoph Schult is the most convincing criticism of Berlin's role at NATO I have read in a while. And there were soo many articles recently.

When reading the usual attacks on our vote on Libya, the Afghanistan mission and the low defense budget, I am often drawn to defend my country's policies. This article, however, argues convincingly with many examples that our government does not care about NATO's future. Berlin lacks the will to staff senior positions with Germans and is not committed to making Smart Defense work.

Continue reading "Germany's Lost Credibility at NATO"

GUTS instead of BRICS

"The West is not in decline, at least not in its entirety. Rather, the financial crisis has created a two-speed West. Four large countries -- Germany, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States -- are actually increasing their international influence." write Bruce Jones and Thomas Wright in Foreign Policy:

Germany stands apart as a rising power amidst a weakened Europe. Its unemployment rate is at a post-Cold War low and its timely market reforms have allowed it to export its way out of the recession. The euro crisis is Germany's greatest challenge but, ironically, it has also made Germany the continent's preeminent diplomatic and geoeconomic power: For better or worse, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has won argument after argument about the future direction of the EU, often despite deep reservations from other member states. Francois Hollande's election in France will complicate but not erode Merkel's position. And even if she loses power next year -- an unlikely prospect despite her recent setbacks in regional elections -- a different German leader will continue to profit from Germany's economic strength within Europe.

A new Atlantic Council report states that "Germany must match its economic power with the strategic ambition and military capability to contribute more strongly to Alliance operations worldwide."

Continue reading "GUTS instead of BRICS"