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Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves

My sister Daphne Wolf studied Burmese music in Yangon. Her music school is organizing relief aid. Daphne wrote this guest blog post:

Small and local aid agencies are best equipped to help the victims of cyclone Nargis because they are already operating on the ground. Donations to these agencies are more effective since big aid organizations are still struggling to access the affected areas.
Local relief groups such as the Music School Gitameit, are providing the most urgently needed first-aid supplies.

For two years I lived in Yangon, studying Burmese traditional music and teaching classical flute at the Gitameit Music Center, a private school founded by the American pianist Kit Young in 2003. I returned to Berlin in December 2007 to finish my masters in Musicology and Southeast Asian Studies.

My friends, former colleagues, and students all tell me that Yangon, the old capital, is widely devastated and that the fertile delta of the Irrawaddy River is still flooded:

Continue reading "Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves"

Pentagon on Afghanistan: We Got to Go it Alone, Basically...

Due to a shortfall in contributions from NATO allies, the Pentagon is considering sending as many as 7,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, write Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker in the New York Times:

[Senior Bush administration officials] said the step would push the number of American forces there to roughly 40,000, the highest level since the war began more than six years ago, and would require at least a modest reduction in troops from Iraq.

The planning began in recent weeks, reflecting a growing resignation to the fact that NATO is unable or unwilling to contribute more troops despite public pledges of an intensified effort in Afghanistan from the presidents and prime ministers who attended an alliance summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, last month.

Related posts on Atlantic Review:

•  Bumper Stickers Slogans: What is the Purpose of NATO?

•  Afghanistan: Merkel Has "No Time" for Burden Sharing Proposals

•  Rupert Murdoch: Alliance Based on Shared Values, not Geography

Military Leaders Outline Plan for New Transatlantic Bargain

A group of European and American military leaders co-authored a report that was released last week, titled Toward a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World, Renewing Transatlantic Partnership (PDF version available from CSIS). The top brass – all with NATO experience – argue that the Alliance remains critical to both Europe and the US:
We are convinced that there is no security for Europe without the US, but we also dare to submit that there is no hope for the US to sustain its role as the world’s sole superpower without the Europeans as allies.
The manifesto begins by arguing that many current and future threats – such as terrorism, international crime, demographic shifts, energy security, climate change, etc. – cannot effectively be addressed by any single country on its own. Instead, NATO provides the best opportunity for western countries to address new threats because it "links together a group of countries that share the most important values and convictions and that took a decision to defend those values and convictions collectively."

Continue reading "Military Leaders Outline Plan for New Transatlantic Bargain"

The Future of Transatlantic Relations

The election of new "pro-American" leaders in Europe will not lead to closer and better transatlantic cooperation. Shared values are not enough. Different interests (often based on geographic location) limit the future strength of transatlantic relations.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Editor of The National Interest, in an interview with the Atlantic Community (full disclosure: my day job):

Shared values are an insufficient basis for partnership without compelling shared interests. European states do not have a strong and enduring relationship with like-minded democracies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan or Australia, in the same way that they do with the United States, because Australia and Germany do not have overriding common economic or security interests. Moreover, even when Americans and Europeans agree on the issues, it does not mean that everyone reaches the same conclusions as to what policy is most effective. Other factors beyond shared values, including geographic proximity, can change a country's assessment. Germanys decision to continue to engage Russia and deepen economic ties, or Frances outreach to Libya including new weapons sales fly in the face of American preferences for using isolation and pressure as the main tools to try and effect change. But then again, the United States does not share a neighborhood with these states.

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues in the Financial Times (subscribers only) that "transatlantic cooperation will be less predictable and more selective:"

Alliances require predictability: of threat, outlook and obligations. But it is precisely this characteristic that is likely to be in short supply in a world defined by shifting threats, differing perceptions and societies with widely divergent readiness to maintain and use military force. The 21st-century world is far more dynamic and fluid than the relatively stable and predictable period of the cold war.
This is in no way meant to defend or advocate unilateralism. But it is a recognition that many in Europe disagree with some US objectives, with how the US goes about realising them, or both. As a result, the US often will be unable to count on the support of its traditional allies.
Also weakening Europe's centrality to US foreign policy is that its capacity for global intervention is diminishing, especially in the military field.

Robert Kagan, however, is more optimistic about transatlantic cooperation, or more specifically: cooperation between democracies. He sees a tendency towards solidarity among the world's autocracies as well as among the world's democracies. Summary of his arguments is available at "The World Divided Between Autocracy and Democracy" on Atlantic Community.

Steyn: "World Should Give Thanks for America"

Hyperbole Alert! Mark Steyn writes in the OC Register:

On this Thanksgiving the rest of the world ought to give thanks to American national sovereignty, too. When something terrible and destructive happens a tsunami hits Indonesia, an earthquake devastates Pakistan the United States can project itself anywhere on the planet within hours and start saving lives, setting up hospitals and restoring the water supply.
Aside from Britain and France, the Europeans cannot project power in any meaningful way anywhere. When they sign on to an enterprise they claim to believe in shoring up Afghanistan's fledgling post-Taliban democracy most of them send token forces under constrained rules of engagement that prevent them doing anything more than manning the photocopier back at the base.
If America were to follow the Europeans and maintain only shriveled attenuated residual military capacity, the world would very quickly be nastier and bloodier, and far more unstable. It's not just Americans and Iraqis and Afghans who owe a debt of thanks to the U.S. soldier but all the Europeans grown plump and prosperous in a globalized economy guaranteed by the most benign hegemon in history.

Well, some European relief agencies are pretty fast as well: German relief experts at work in New Orleans. Still, I agree that the US military is the fastest and biggest provider of emergency help around the world. And Berliners continue to be grateful for the Airlift: During the 15 months long blockade of West Berlin in 1948-49, the US Air Force delivered everything the West-Berliners needed to survive (food, fuel, medicine, hope) in 190.000 flights.

I tend to agree with Steyn's comment on the European "token forces," but I doubt that "the world would very quickly be nastier and bloodier, and far more unstable," if the US reduced its defense spending. He is exaggerating the influence the United States currently has.

Anyway, Germans continue to have many reasons to be thankful for everything Americans have done for us. And I am thankful for many things, including the constantly growing number of Atlantic Review readers, commenters and guest bloggers. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen! I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Germans probably are not very thankful for Defense Secretary Gates' decision to freeze plans for further reducing Army forces in Europe. It is my impression that Germans don't consider US bases in Germany as a requirement for national security. (German readers, what do think?) The local communities surrounding the bases, however, will probably be thrilled to be able to continue business with the US forces.

The New York Times reports that the US "will maintain about 40,000 soldiers in Germany and Italy, nearly twice as many as had been envisioned under a drawdown that began two years ago, according to senior Pentagon and military officials." This issue was discussed on Atlantic Review last week, when Gates has not yet made the decision: US Forces May Stay Longer in Europe.

Ambassador Crocker Sees Increased European Support for Iraq

"The US ambassador to Baghdad has said that he has seen a greater recognition from some European countries that they have a stake in the outcome in Iraq," reports Yahoo News. Ryan Crocker referred to the recent visits to Baghdad by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt:

"It seems to me that some major European countries are now taking another look, a new look at Iraq," Crocker said, "and recognising four-and a-half years after the fall of Saddam that they have long-term interests in how things turn out in Iraq." (...) "This expanded European engagement is a very positive thing," Crocker said. (...)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has expressed an interest in travelling to Iraq.

I think Ambassador Crocker is too optimistic regarding European help.

A video clip with Crocker's statement is posted below the fold. There is some advertisement, but so far all ads were for a good cause. Continue reading "Ambassador Crocker Sees Increased European Support for Iraq"

NATO's Split Personality: Why The Rapid Response Force Is Not Fully Operational

NATO's Rapid Response Force (NRF) is not at full operational capability, because member states had pledged only about 75 per cent of what was needed, according to General John Craddock, NATO's top military commander, whose letter to NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is covered in the Financial Times.

The German business daily Handelsblatt (via Finger.Zeig) even claims that the United States have "suddenly" reduced its actual contribution down to 5 per cent of the pledged contingent, therefore the NRF's supposed strength of 25,000 is just "above 50 per cent," i.e. lower than the number mentioned in the Financial Times.

Our regular reader and commentator Don Stadler, an American software engineer in England, wrote the following guest blog post on this matter for Atlantic Review: Continue reading "NATO's Split Personality: Why The Rapid Response Force Is Not Fully Operational"

Prostitution in Iraq

Two Iraqi mothers tell CNN they turned to prostitution to help feed their children: "It's a taboo that no one is speaking about," says Yanar Mohammed, head and founder of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, and adds:

"There is a huge population of women who were the victims of war who had to sell their bodies, their souls and they lost it all. It crushes us to see them, but we have to work on it and that's why we started our team of women activists." Her team pounds the streets of Baghdad looking for these victims often too humiliated to come forward.
"Most of the women that we find at hospitals [who] have tried to commit suicide" have been involved in prostitution, said Basma Rahim, a member of Mohammed's team. The team's aim is to compile information on specific cases and present it to Iraq's political parties -- to have them, as Mohammed puts it, "come tell us what [they] are ... going to do about this."
Rahim tells the heartbreaking story of one woman they found who lives in a room with three of her children: "She has sex while her three children are in the room, but she makes them stand in separate corners." According to Rahim and Mohammed, most of the women they encounter say they are driven to prostitution by a desperate desire for survival in the dangerously violent and unforgiving circumstances in Iraq.
Can you imagine anything worse? Are family and government safety nets not working anymore? Why isn't there (more) support for widows? Why can't coalition forces and the Iraqi army hand out enough food for all hungry women and children? Continue reading "Prostitution in Iraq"