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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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Majority of Germans in Favor of More Transatlantic Cooperation

The German media is full of NSA and TTIP criticism, but 56% of Germans still want more cooperation with the United States. That’s a surprisingly positive result of the Körber-Foundation poll “Involvement or Restraint” in support of the German Foreign Office’s “Review 2014”-process. And yet, several journalists manage to draw Anti-American conclusions from this poll.

I have explained it in German at Deutschlands Agenda, but including some tweets in English.

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Sicherheitspolitischer Fruehschoppen

Twitter is much less popular in Germany than in the United States. There is, however, an increasing number of think tankers, journalists, graduate students, politicians who debate German foreign policy, NATO, and security issues in general on Twitter. Even on a Sunday morning, when a news report suggested that NATO is not fully prepared to defend the Baltic states. Here's part of the exchange: Continue reading "Sicherheitspolitischer Fruehschoppen"

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"

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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