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Highlights from the Munich Security Conference 2014

The world's leading defense conference celebrated it's 50th anniversary this year and the debates were fascinating and met the expectations. I have curated tweets from participants and tweeted myself based on the livestream on Saturday. Here's a selection of what I think are the most interesting Tweets on Germany, China/Japan and general history lessons.

This is followed by some criticism about a lack of diversity as well as photos from a panel of 90+ year old statesmen, of four female defense ministers (less than half the age, I guess), an embarrassing selfie from a CEO, and of the demonstration outside.

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NATO Achievements and Challenges in 2013

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's latest Annual Report focuses on NATO's achievements in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Turkey and against piracy and the ways to ensure an efficient and capable NATO for 2014 and beyond. Here and on Storify are some of the main points as Tweets. Continue reading "NATO Achievements and Challenges in 2013"

Germany's Defense Spending: Fact-checking the NY Times

Yesterday, the New York Times published a short article by Professor Hendrickson with wrong claims about Germany’s defense spending:

“Germany’s cuts of 25 percent over the next four years are similarly appalling.”

Ryan C. Hendrickson’s only stated reference about such drastic defense cuts is a RAND study, which he describes as „recent“, although it was published in mid-2012 and relies on data mostly from 2011. The professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University took the phrase „the next four years“ from the first paragraph of the RAND summary. It seems that he has not read the next two pages, which state: “The German Ministry of Defense plans to cut $10 billion (or roughly €7.8 billion) from its defense budget by 2013. If these cuts are implemented as planned, the entire German Armed Forces will…” This means that the 25 percent cut was supposed to already have happened. Professor Hendrickson also missed RAND’s qualifier expressed with the big “If” and he has not bothered to check the numbers for 2013. Fact is that Germany’s defense spending has increased by 2 billion Euro between 2009 and 2013.

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Why Central Europe Needs Atlanticism Now

A Must Read article in The American Interest by A. Wess Mitchell, President of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington DC and Jan Havranek, Director of the Defense Policy and Strategy Division at the Czech Ministry of Defense, who writes in his personal capacity.

Although the piece is specifically addressed to US readers and calls for more American leadership, European students of history (of all ages) should read it, including those government officials and politicians in Germany and elsewhere who claim to think beyond the next four years.

"In short, it isn't just Atlanticism that is in crisis; it is the entire paradigm of post-Cold War Europe. The fact that Central European countries are less Atlanticist has not necessarily made them more Europeanist. On the new European map, economic power resides in the east-central core of the continent, in the nexus of overlapping geopolitical and economic interests between Germany and the states of the Baltic-to-Black Sea corridor. This configuration resembles the Mitteleuropa of Bismarck, stripped of its Prussian military overtones, more than it does the federative European vision of Monnet and Schuman, or the Atlanticist vision of Asmus and Vondra. (...)

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A Slogan and Theme Song for NATO

The new US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, called for a Transatlantic Renaissance. From a speech at the Atlantic Council:

What is required is a "Transatlantic Renaissance" - a new burst of energy, confidence, innovation, and generosity, rooted in our democratic values and ideals. When so much of the world around us is turbulent and unmoored, we are once again called to be a beacon of security, freedom and prosperity for countries everywhere. That will require both confidence and investments at home, and commitment and unity abroad. Together, we must lead or we will see the things we value and our global influence recede.

A great speech, which also included what could make a great suggestion for a NATO slogan and theme song ;-)

When people ask me what NATO is for after we stop fighting in Afghanistan, I invariably hear the Ghost Busters theme song in my head: "Who ya gonna call?"

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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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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