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Not a Riddle: Reading Russia - and Responding Resolutely

Putin's strategy is to intimidate, confuse and divide the West. He wants us to worry about his next steps. He appears stronger than he is, if Western decision-makers and opinion leaders consider Russia "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Churchill's famous description from October 1939 has made a comeback in the last fifteen months, but unfortunately not as the full quote:

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest of the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan States and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of south eastern Europe.  That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.

Churchill's reference to the "riddle", I believe, was mainly about forecasting Russia's actions, which is similar to the weather forecast. The next few days can be forecasted with quite some authority, but not the next weeks. Yet, we all know the not too distant future: Winter is coming. (Only stupid bureaucrats in charge of our public transport systems get surprised by the first heavy snow fall.) Russia's future looks bleak as current policies are not sustainable.

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Misreading Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis Screwed up German and US Foreign Policy

As usual, American pundits and politicians expect too much from demonstrations of power, sanctions against and isolation of Russia, while their German counterparts exaggerate the benefits of talking to Putin by establishing a contact group and attending the G8. Personally, I favor a mix of both approaches, of course. Though, I don't have much hope here and agree with Julia Ioffe's pessimism.

I do, however, would like to make a general comment beyond the current Ukraine crisis:

One reason for these different policies on Russia (and China by the way) is that many influential Germans and Americans drew the wrong lessons from important foreign policy successes in the Cold War: Respectively Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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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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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.

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Libya Exposes Contradictions

James Joyner of the Atlantic Council has a great op-ed on Libya:

Yes, Gadhafi was ultimately ousted - after six months - with a European face on the fight. But it came at the cost of undermining our partners' confidence in American leadership as well as rendering hypocritical our complaints about European "caveats" in Afghanistan.

Second, the fight has both reaffirmed my belief that NATO is an absolutely vital vehicle for transatlantic cooperation and underscored my fear that it is structurally unsound. Headline writers to the contrary, the toppling of the Gadhafi regime is an unqualified success for the Alliance. Who else could have, in short order, coordinated a complex operation with American, Canadian, European and Arab states? Certainly, not the European Union. Nor was the French offer to simply lead in an ad hoc fashion acceptable to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others. Years of working and training together under a stable institutional framework had created vital trust.

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