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We need to appreciate each other!

Russell Berman responded to our criticism with an update below his Daily Beast article that is longer than his original article.

This is my response: Yes, the United States started an impressive surge in Afghanistan last year, while the European NATO members "just" increased their troops. This means that the share of European compared to US troops is today lower than it used to be. The US surge, however, is temporary and Obama is expected to declare soon how many troops he will withdraw. European countries are sovereign and are not obligated to follow every US policy decision.

Moreover, this does not change the fact that Berman was factually wrong in stating that the Obama administration "was completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments" and "some [European allies], like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn." Professor Berman's claim that it is "hard" "to find Europeans on the front lines," is wrong and insensitive to the families of dead soldiers.

Such statements will not encourage Europeans to increase their support US led wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which is Prof Berman's goal. Today, nearly ten years after 9/11, European countries have 37,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's an increase of 11,000 troops since Obama became president. Why is not Berman acknowledging this at all? Think about all the European families who have a loved one in Afghanistan!

Only if US think tankers appreciate the European contributions to Afghanistan, is there a chance that Europe continues to follow the US leadership and support the wars that the US political and think tank elite (but not the public) cares about.

Continue reading "We need to appreciate each other!"

Neocons and Liberal Interventionists vs. the Debt Crisis and the Realists

Secretary Gates apparently said today that European countries should increase their defense spending, because the United States has a debt problem and is not willing anymore to pay for Europe's defense.

Well, one of many reasons the US has such huge debt is the enormous defense budget, which is so much higher than those from other major powers. European nations are not spending more on defense, because we have debt problems as well and can't afford the US debt levels, because we cannot print dollars.

Besides, the US has not spent a fortune in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to protect Europe, but because of its own perceived self-interests. Thus I take issues with these statements by Secretary Gates as reported by the BBC:

Continue reading "Neocons and Liberal Interventionists vs. the Debt Crisis and the Realists"

Understanding Germany

I am a big fan of The Economist, but the latest article on Germany's foreign policy "The unadventurous eagle" leaves me a bit confused. The title suggests that Germany is not going on foreign policy adventures. That's good, right?

The subheading, however, is negative and asserts cautiously "Europe's biggest economic power seems reluctant to have a foreign policy to match." So what? Japan, China, South Korea, Brazil do not match their economic power with foreign policy commitments either. Besides, the US and especially Greece have a disproportionately high defense spending considering the current state of their economy. If the Economist would accuse Germany of lack of NATO solidarity and burden sharing in Afghanistan and defense capabilities and readiness, I would agree.

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Defending Germany, Defending NATO, Defending Definitions

Jorge Benitez of the Atlantic Council writes in the New Atlanticist about the new NATO, which "is defined by US caveats, French political will, British leadership, German uncertainty, and a tangible level of commitment by some allies."

It's a good article, but I take issue with some of the harsher criticism against Germany, even though I agree that our foreign minister did not handle this issue well. Jorge writes:

Perhaps the most controversial component of the new NATO is Germany. Since World War II, Germany has kept a strong relationship with Paris and Washington, sometimes at the expense of one over the other. But even when exploring better relations with Moscow, Germany has always moved forward with preferably both, but at least one of its main allies. The Libyan crisis has been a painful exception. Berlin now seems to be pursuing a new path, Lostpolitik. How long will Berlin favor unilateral policies or new allies, instead of the allies that helped make Germany whole, prosperous, and free?

Germany's recent actions have had a deep impact on its allies. The US may not say so publicly, but privately, neither Washington nor Paris is certain that Germany can be counted on in times of conflict. At the same time, all across the alliance, voters are becoming more aware that after so many decades of being a consumer of security from NATO, Germany is now reluctant to become a provider of security for its allies. 

Furthermore, Berlin should be ashamed of excuses about coalition politics and electoral distractions. After all, Belgium was able to take its place on the front lines with its allies, even though it has not had a government in over a year.

What new allies? Allies are members of an alliance, which is a big deal. Germany abstained in the Libya vote. Russia, China, India and Brasil happen to have voted the same way, but that does not make these five countries allies. What is indeed shameful, however, is that according to Majid Sattar in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung our foreign minister and his staff made phone calls all night before the UN vote to convince other Security Council members to abstain.

Continue reading "Defending Germany, Defending NATO, Defending Definitions"

Remembering Holbrooke and Bosnia

Richard Holbrooke, described by President Obama as a "true giant of American foreign policy," has died following heart surgery. He was only 69, but his career covered nearly fifty years. From 1993-1994, he was the US Ambassador to Germany and founded the American Academy in Berlin.

Ambassador Holbrooke died on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which was the biggest of his many accomplishments and ended more than three years of bloody war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO published a three-part mini video documentary "From Peacekeeping To Partnership":

Part I: Building Peace tells of NATO's gradual engagement in support of United Nations' efforts to end the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and the deployment of its first peacekeeping force in December 1995. NATO's mission continued for nine years until responsibility for security was handed over to the European Union in December 2004. 

Part II: Reforming the Military shows how NATO's support for essential defence reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina has helped downsize the armed forces and turn them into a single military force under state-level control. Progress made allowed the country to join NATO's Partnership for Peace in 2006.

Part III: The Road to Integration highlights the country's deepening partnership with NATO and provides an insight into the challenges ahead on the road to the country's possible membership of the Alliance.

Richard Holbrooke's book about Bosnia "To End a War" (, is my favorite foreign policy memoir. It is so well written that it reads like a good thriller. I was very inspired when I read his book during my Political Science studies in the late 90s. Richard Holbrooke was an inspiration to many other German students as well.

Transatlantic Time of the Year

Get ready for two busy days: The NATO summit starts tomorrow, followed by the NATO-Russia summit, followed by the EU-US summit.

President Obama started the charm offensive by naming Chancellor Merkel one of fifteen recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor." Moreover, he published an Op-Ed in the NY Times: Europe and America, Aligned for the Future

And Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues in Politico: Critics write obits, but NATO focuses on new threats

Do you think NATO will succeed in revitalizing itself?

Is Lisbon going to open a new chapter in NATO-Russian relations?

Are you optimistic regarding improved EU-US cooperation? Or do you expect nothing more than photo-ops?

Let us know.

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Survey Finds NATO Remains Popular in the US

Given waning support for the Afghanistan mission, a sentiment among many Americans that the US is putting far more relatively into both Iraq and Afghanistan than it's partners, and regular arguments from media pundits that NATO no longer has relevance in a post-Cold War world -- I was surprised to read this in The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' 2010 national survey of public opinion on foreign policy:
Americans... continue to show support for involvement in NATO, one of America’s most enduring military alliances. Only 13 percent favor decreasing the U.S. commitment—essentially unchanged from 2004. Sixty-six percent (66%) favor keeping the current U.S. commitment to NATO “what it is now,” while 10 percent would like to increase it (down 4 points from 2004). (p.15)
The report is titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities.  Overall, the 83-page survey finds that American's still support a strong international role for US foreign policy, including militarily.  The following excerpt comes from the introduction to chapter one, titled "Reevaluating Priorities across a Changing Global Landscape":
With a painfully slow recovery, persistently high unemployment, and diminished tax revenues, the United States has fewer resources to direct toward international efforts.

Abroad, Americans see a shifting international environment in which the United States is less dominant, China’s power is growing, and the world is gradually moving toward a more multipolar order. Yet while such a change does engender some anxiety, this international realignment is not something that Americans are inclined to resist. In fact, they have favored the United States playing a less hegemonic role in the world for some time now, and thus they appear ready to adapt to it.

Overall, Americans are standing by their internationalist views and major commitments, even as they scale back their ambitions and become more selective in what they will support in terms of blood and treasure. (p.11)

2010 is Deadliest Year for Coalition Forces in Afghanistan

2010 is the deadliest year for NATO forces in Afghanistan, reports the NYT.
Violence is 69 percent higher for the three months ending Sept. 14 than it was for the same period last year, according to the United Nations special representative’s quarterly report to the Security Council, which was released Tuesday.

The deterioration of security was most evident in the increase in roadside bomb explosions, which rose 82 percent over the same period in 2009.
A graph documenting the steady annual rise of coalition deaths from 2001 to today can be found at US forces have suffered 1301 deaths out of the total 2098 among coalition forces since the war began in 2001.

This record in casualties follows another landmark event in Afghanistan last week, nation-wide provincial elections.  Here are some (grim) stats on the election outcome provided by AFP:

* more than 2,500 candidates stood for 249 seats
* over 3,000 official complaints about voting irregularities
* more than 1,000 polling centers were unable to open because security could not be guaranteed
* 22 people were killed by polling day violence, and 294 insurgent attacks occurred
* final results are due October 31st, though may be delayed for months

While these numbers may be discouraging, Tony Karon writes in Time that the elections actually have only a marginal impact on Afghanistan's future:
Most of the region's main players, including President Karzai himself, are operating on the assumption that the only plausible endgame for the war in Afghanistan is some form of political settlement with the Taliban — and reports from the region suggest that the pursuit of such a settlement, with Pakistan acting as broker, has already begun via discreet talks. The bottom line in such a settlement would be for the Taliban to agree to prevent territory under its control from being used to export terrorism, and to accept that it will not be able to restore its theocratic rule over the whole country — some form of power sharing would be inevitable, with the Taliban likely to end up as the dominant political authority in the Pashtun south and east. But despite reports that Taliban leaders are open to a different approach to wielding power and hosting al-Qaeda, achieving a deal would be far from easy. The Taliban's military momentum diminishes its incentive to compromise, and the leaders of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban for years and brought President Karzai to power are fiercely opposed to the restoration of the movement to any position of power. Still, the distribution of power in Afghanistan is clearly going to be determined by the outcome of efforts to broker a political solution among those who wield military force on the ground. And in that respect, Saturday's vote was, unfortunately, a sideshow.