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NATO's Tightrope Walk: Reassuring Frontline Allies without Provoking Russia

The German Council on Foreign Relations hosted the US and German ambassadors at NATO at the event "Old Threats and New Challenges: NATO 2014 Summit and Beyond".  I tweeted about their key arguments on Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, interoperability and deterrence: Continue reading "NATO's Tightrope Walk: Reassuring Frontline Allies without Provoking Russia"

Brainstorming about Russia and Ukraine

A few good reads on how to respond to Russia regarding Ukraine:

Admiral Stavridis (ret) makes the case for a vigorous NATO response in Foreign Policy: "NATO Needs to Move Now on Crimea. Action may provoke -- but so does doing nothing."

Steve Saideman: Let's Play the NATO Game 

Ingo Manteufel for DW: Crimea is Putin's bargaining chip. Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy for the Ukrainian conflict is clear. As a result, Ukraine's new government and the West are in a dangerous jam.

Peter Baker in NY Times: Russia to Pay? Not So Simple

Not so good was this prediction:

Continue reading "Brainstorming about Russia and Ukraine"

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"

US Army Tanks Out, German Navy Ships In

The Times They Are a-Changin: The last 22 Abrams tanks of the US Army have left Germany. From Stars & Stripes:

From World War II on through the Cold War, tanker units were a heavy presence in Germany. At its peak, Germany was home to 20 NATO armored divisions, or about 6,000 tanks, according to the 21st TSC. "There is no [U.S.] tank on German soil. It's a historic moment," said Lt. Col. Wayne Marotto, 21st TSC spokesman.

Meanwhile, the US Navy (h/t Marian) reports:

Continue reading "US Army Tanks Out, German Navy Ships In"

NATO Transformation: Q&A with General Abrial

From my day job:

Join Atlantic Community for our next Q&A with General Stéphane Abrial, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. We invite you to ask questions about NATO's ongoing efforts to implement "Smart Defense" and share your own thoughts on how to handle transformation in the 21st century.

General Abrial is the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT), which is responsible for ensuring NATO remains an effective and innovative force in the 21st century despite economic pressures and budget rollbacks.

Continue reading "NATO Transformation: Q&A with General Abrial"

"German Soldiers Can't Shoot"

The Daily Beast published the article German Soldiers Can't Shoot by German journalist Stefan Theil about "Leaked reports question the competence of the German army, which has thousands of troops serving in Afghanistan":

"German soldiers mostly don't know how to use their weapons." They "have no or little experience driving armored vehicles." For German field commanders, "the necessity and ways [to protect their units from roadside bombs] are to a large extent either unknown or incorrect." These are quotes from a series of secret internal reports on the German army, the Bundeswehr, whose 5,000 soldiers in the northern Kunduz sector of Afghanistan were supposed to help the U.S. rout the Taliban and stabilize the country over the past 10 years.

The reports are from 2009 and 2010 and were leaked to the Bild, a German tabloid that is Europe's highest-circulation newspaper. [Bundeswehrbericht enthüllt: Afghanistan-Soldaten können nicht richtig schießen] But they are an indication of the poor state of the Bundeswehr, which only two years ago even started fighting in Afghanistan. Before that, they weren't allowed to shoot except in self-defense, and only after they had shouted repeated warnings in the local language.

Only two years ago? Hm, I thought the policy change was earlier, but I must have been mistaken.

Continue reading ""German Soldiers Can't Shoot""

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 iCasualties.org. 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.

"Let's Cut Defense Spending"

Strange world: Atlantic Review is not just as a reference in an MA thesis, but is also referenced by E.D. Kain of the neoconservative (?) National Review Online to make the argument that the US should cut defense spending. He is linking to our blog in this paragraph:

Americans provide defense for Europe and much of Asia, allowing Europeans to spend almost nothing on defense while spending lavish amounts on generous entitlement programs. And it is not at all clear that these countries actually want our military bases anymore. Europe has largely put war behind it with the advent of the European Union, and save for the Korean peninsula, Asia is largely moving toward a peaceful, global economy as well. Refocusing our defense priorities into regions that have more direct implications for our own national security, such as Africa and the Middle East, would force Europe to take into account not only the defense of its own soil, but the vast expense associated with that defense. Governments already burdened with extraordinarily high rates of taxation will be forced to make cuts in their welfare programs in order to shore up their defense apparatus.

I disagree. I bet that Germany will not increase defense spending, if the US closes another military base. Previous closures did not lead to increase either. Many Americans like to think that US military bases abroad are protecting the host countries, while majorities (?) in the host countries see the bases as serving primarily US interests.

Whatever the US does, German defense spending declines for domestic reasons. Last week, the German legislative even voted to shorten military service down to six months for budgetary reasons. To me that sounds more like a military internship than part of national defense. Quite a few politicians want to maintain the military service since it supports recruitment for professional soldiers. In the 60s and early 70s the military service was three times as long as it is today.

An interesting statistic that the National Review Online author did not get from us: "Each troop we send to Afghanistan costs the public $1 million per year. That's $1 million siphoned out of the U.S. economy and shipped overseas to the mountains of Afghanistan and the Iraqi deserts." Aha! Since this is the National Review I am tempted to ask the author whether the economy is more important than security? They seem to be moving towards the European position on war versus economy. Is America becoming a post-heroic society just like Europe, this was actually the topic of the blogpost to be referenced in an MA thesis.