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.
Continue reading "Syria, Germany and the Europeanization of Great Britain"
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.
Continue reading "Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails"
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"
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"
The Munich Security Conference is creating quite some buzz on Twitter this year. #MSC2013 is trending at the moment in Germany, which is unusual for a foreign policy topic and is probably a first for a conference. I have retweeted some statements from participants and responded to a few on NATO, transatlantic relations, Iran, Syria and international economics.
Continue reading "Munich Security Conference 2013"
French foreign policy has not changed that much in the last decade, but some prominent US opinions about Paris have.
I am surprised to read the headline "Can the E.U. become the world's policeman?" in the Washington Post. Anne Applebaum's latest op-ed about French policy in Mali concludes that Americans should "stop giggling about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and start offering logistical and moral support. Europe may not be the best superpower. But it's the only one we've got."
Wow. Thanks. But that's too much praise. Of course, the EU will not, cannot and does not even want to become the world's policeman or a superpower in the foreseeble future.
Still it's nice to read this as we approach the 10th anniversary of the transatlantic quarrels over the Iraq war. On January 24, 2003 the NY Post published the “Axis of Weasel” cover story about France and Germany and a play on George W. Bush’s denunciation of the “axis of evil”. And then there were the Subway ads, which SuperFrenchie campaigned against.
Anne Applebaum assumes that Europe has changed so much since the Libya operation and makes a big deal out of the French intervention in Mali and its context. I think she exaggerates, but she also makes important observations, which will change American perceptions of France:
Continue reading "What a Difference 10 Years Can Make"
In other words, the French are in Mali fighting an international terrorist organization with the potential to inflict damage across North Africa and perhaps beyond. Not long ago, this sort of international terrorist organization used to inspire emergency planning sessions at the Pentagon. Now the French have had trouble getting Washington to pay attention at all. Some U.S. transport planes recently helped ferry French soldiers to the region but, according to Le Figaro, the Americans at first asked the French to pay for the service - "a demand without precedent" - before wearily agreeing to help.
Heather A. Conley, a senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C, has a piece in Foreign Policy titled "The Transatlantic Test" with the subheading "Europe is facing an existential crisis, and it's time the United States recognized it."
Continue reading "Think Tanks as Tabloids"
I was part of a group of 59 politicians, scholars, and other observers invited to take part in the Atlantic Council and Foreign Policy Magazine's survey on the future of NATO. It was an honor to participate in this survey and a good opportunity for reflection as well as to think about some big questions.
In addition to 28 multiple choice questions, we were asked to complete four sentences and I believe there is a common theme in my answers:
Continue reading "Accepting Our Limits Makes for a Stronger Alliance"
NATO today is... the best "insurance policy" we have to remain free and secure, when (not if) we are once again surprised by a new threat.
NATO's biggest mistake in the past 10 years has been... giving up the light footprint policy in Afghanistan in 2003. We have since expended huge investment in the country out of proportion to our achieved objectives or the level of threat that Afghanistan poses.
NATO's mission in Afghanistan is... an important reminder of our limited capabilities for state and nation-building as well as for big expeditionary out-of-area missions.
The biggest problem with NATO today is... the constant pressure from many politicians and pundits to prove its relevance beyond the Article 5 guarantee.