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Munich Security Conference 2013

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.

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Shame on us: Germany Boosts Arms Sales to Mideast

"Germany has become a key arms supplier in the Middle East despite stringent export controls that have inhibited weapons sales in the past," writes UPI (via SeidlersSiPo) in a good summary of recent sales. In the current conflict in Libya, weapons manufactured by German defense companies are being used by both sides:

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces use tank transporters built by Mercedes Benz, German-made electronic jamming systems and Milan-3 surface-to-air missiles made by the French-German MBDA company. NATO forces employ the twin-engined Eurofighters for their air campaign against Gadhafi's beleaguered regime.

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Germany's Embarrassing Policy on Iran

Never has Germany been more isolated, wrote Former Foreign Minister Fischer regarding Berlin's position on Libya. The Merkel-Westerwelle government alienates our Western allies with its dealings with Iran as well. Apparently, Germany's foreign and economic ministries agreed to let India pay 9 billion euro to Iran via Germany's central bank.

The United States had pressured India's central bank to end previous business transactions with Iran via an Asian bank. Now Germany's government appears to be undermining these sanctions. India gets about 15 percent of its crude oil imports from Iran. Sources in German: Handelsblatt and Zeit. In English: New York Times.

According to Spiegel International the stands in connection to the release of two German journalists from Iran.

Are Germany and India new best buddies? Both abstained in the UN Security Council on Libya.

Dialog International writes about "The Westerwelle Doctrine", which "would seem to dictate that Germany will seek out different international partners depending on how the domestic winds are blowing.  Germany is happy to align with the US and Great Britain, as long as it doesn't require the use of force or the commitment of resources.  Otherwise it will join with Russia, Brazil or India." wonders how Germany can repair the damage to its international reputation and convince voters of the right course at the same time. Foreign policy makers and experts in Germany and around the world criticize Germany's position on Libya. However the majority of Germans seem to approve it.  Any ideas?

UPDATE (April 5, 2011): AP: "A plan for India to funnel oil payments to Iran through Germany's central bank at a time when Tehran faces international sanctions has been scrapped, a German government official said Tuesday."

Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015

Secretary Clinton said on Monday that Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon has been delayed by sanctions.

The timing of this statement is a bit awkward and insensitive considering the plane crash in Iran the day before, which resulted in the death of at least 77 people. After all, "Aircraft accidents are not uncommon in Iran, where international sanctions have prevented the country from buying new aircraft parts from the West" (FP).

Anyway, this is good news from Israel via the NY Times:

Israel's departing intelligence chief said he believes Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015 at the earliest, Israeli news media reported Friday, in a revised and surprisingly upbeat assessment of Tehran's nuclear capabilities. (...)

Israeli predictions for Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb, which Israel considers an existential threat, have gradually lengthened in recent years.

In the early 2000s, Israeli intelligence branches spoke of Iran's making a bomb before the end of the decade. As recently as 2009, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, said he thought Iran could do it by 2011. Last month, Moshe Yaalon, Israel's minister of strategic affairs, said he believed Iran was at least three years away from a nuclear bomb.

About a year ago, Mr. Dagan told a parliamentary committee that Iran would not have the ability to fire a nuclear missile until 2014, Yediot Aharonot reported. He is said to have based his latest estimate on an assumption that no further preventive actions are taken.

Soccer Diplomacy with Iran?

"We had ping pong diplomacy with China, and now we may soon engage in soccer diplomacy with Iran. Reports out of Tehran indicate that the US Soccer Federation has inquired about the possibility of holding a friendly with Iran sometime in October and November," writes Democracyarsenal.

America's next ambassador to Germany might come from the Board of Directors of the US Soccer Foundation... Germans are certainly going to support soccer diplomacy with Iran.

Atlantic Review has written about Soccer in German-American Relations. Also see these posts about the world cup in Germany to understand the importance of soccer to world peace: Germany's National Holiday and the "Summer's Tale" Documentary, U.S. Soccer Captain Praises Party Atmosphere in Germany and State Department Uses the World Cup to Improve U.S. Image.

Obama's Wish List for Europe

"NATO's 60th anniversary summit in France and Germany in April, 2009 may well offer Europeans their first reality check on the 44th president," write Michael F. Harsch and Calin Trenkov-Wermuth in the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) feature on PostGlobal (via German Joys):

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently stated that he does not believe the Obama administration will make any unrealistic demands once it comes into office. Steinmeier is likely to be disappointed. The first item on Obama's wish list will most likely be greater European burden-sharing in Afghanistan. The danger of a NATO failure in Afghanistan is real, and this issue will dominate the NATO summit's agenda.

Second item on the wish list is Iran:

Before starting any negotiations, Obama will expect the Europeans to agree on more than just 'carrots' promising rewards if Iran should abolish its nuclear program. The new administration will also demand agreement on credible 'sticks' in case the Iranians are not ready to compromise. These could be simply tougher economic and political sanctions but Obama has also made it clear that he will not put the military option off the table.

Okay, those are the usual speculations about Obama's wish list. The third point on China was new to me. Harsch and Trenkov-Wermuth expect Obama to

urge Europeans to take a tougher stance on China, which is seen as undermining the West's efforts to put pressure on Iran. China has dramatically increased its economic ties with Iran, filling some of the gaps created by the departure of American and European companies. Recently, Iran announced that trade exchanges with China will exceed $25 billion this year, compared to $9.2 billion in 2005, and unless this trend is stopped or reversed, the threat of tougher economic sanctions will not have the desired impact.

Well, should not the US also take a tougher stance on China? Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU presidency, just got "tough" by announcing that he will have a chat with the Dalai Lama in Poland. This was enough for the Chinese to cancel a summit with the EU.

The US seems to be very dependent on China in the current financial crisis, so I am not sure if Obama will put pressure on the Chinese over the Iran's nuclear program.

Finally, the authors believe that US policy on Russia and Eastern Europe won't change much under Obama:

The US under President Obama will still call for a tougher stance and a more unified reaction from the European countries to Russian threats, especially from Germany, France and Italy. Obama will urge the big European powers to send a clear message to the central and eastern European NATO members that they are ready to defend them, and he will reaffirm the US commitment to the accession of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO.

That's pretty stupid. In my humble opinion, journalists, think tankers and politicians should not use the phrase "tougher stance," which the authors used to describe policy advice for dealing with Iran and China. This phrase is so vague. It's meaningless. You want to be really tough, then boycott Chinese and Russian goods. Anybody ready to do that?

Germany Has to Kick Ass in Northern Afghanistan

Next week the German parliament will vote on the extension of the ISAF mandate. There seems to be a broad majority in favor of increasing the German contribution by 1000 troops to 4500 for the next 14 months.

However, contrary to frequent demands by NATO allies, Germany is not joining the fight against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. And the new mandate will not ease the restrictions on military operations either.

This makes the troop increase a waste of effort, says Ahmed Rashid, the acclaimed Pakistani journalist and bestselling author of "Taliban" and "Descent Into Chaos." Mr. Rashid calls upon Germany to be much more active militarily and politically. The Bundeswehr does not have to go to southern Afghanistan, but it must do much more in the North.

Ahmed Rashid gave a very thoughtful, passionate and captivating keynote speech at the Heinrich Boell Foundation's conference on "Values and Interests in Foreign Policy." Watch the video below:

Germany is not the only country that has to change course drastically and overcome its deep aversion to risk taking. The United States has to leave its comfort zone and enter new territory by talking to Iran about Afghanistan in order to win this regional conflict. This is what Ahmed Rashid told my colleague David Lebhar after the keynote speech. You can watch the interview over at Atlantic Community: "How the US and Germany Can Win in Afghanistan.

What can be expected of Europe in Iraq?

Editor's note by Nanne: The following entry was written by Migeru, an editor of the progressive community blog 'The European Tribune'. It is a scenario on the chances for European action on Iraq, based upon the principles of 'human rights' and 'riding the wave'.

As a recent post by Jörg revealed, there may be renewed interest in a European policy on Iraq. Beyond the current lack of any coordinated policy and the expectation that a European policy should consist of helping out America, a broad range of options exists.

This shortened version of Migeru's European Tribune diary is a first step in exploring some of those options.

It seems that European (Union) involvement in sorting out Bush's Iraqi misadventure has become a hot topic again [as shown by diaries of Magnifico and Joerg in Berlin - Nanne]. Jörg's diary especially got me thinking about what could be expected of European Union involvement in Iraq, and what a European strategy should be. My tentative answer is based on two principles: human rights and riding the wave.

Human Rights

It may be unrealistic to think of the EU as postcolonialist, but in any case I personally would like to see European Union foreign policy built around a true concern for Human Rights (counterexample). It is true that Iraq is everyone's problem even if the blame for the current mess can be pinned almost exclusively on the US. A spillover of violence from Iraq would be of concern to Europe, the Middle East is relatively close and accessible, and we need the oil, too. But instead of traditional geopolitical power-plays and grand-chessboard strategy, assume that the EU's concern would simply be to help Iraq contain the bleeding, restore a semblance of dignity and respect for human rights, and allow a civil society to emerge from the ashes. What would be the strategy, and what would be the roadblocks along the way?

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