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Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails

The United States has built huge internet surveillance infrastructures, but failed to implement its own 9/11 law about maritime cargo security.

The risks of an attack at a US port or the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (or their components) in shipping containers are big. Compared to the importance of scanning more cargo containers, the benefits of scanning emails appear quite small. What is needed is a serious debate about the right priorities for counter-terrorism and cost/benefit analysis of current policies.

While US and other Western governments claim that internet surveillance has prevented several terrorist attacks, it could also be argued that internet surveillance catches only some of the stupid terrorists, who can only pull off relatively minor attacks. (But not all of them, e.g. not the Boston bombers.)

Smart terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who have the brains and resources to kill tens of thousands of people, do not communicate over the internet. (Or they use very serious encryption, which the NSA computers won’t break in time.) They might plan sophisticated operations for American, French, Dutch or German harbors.

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Germany Needs Tough Love from Obama

Berlin is excited about President Obama's upcoming visit and his speech at the Brandenburg Gate. Can he coin a memorable phrase like Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" fifty years ago? Or Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"? Will he offer Germany a different version of Bush senior's "partnership in leadership", but this time with more impact? I doubt it.

I have high hopes, but not high expectations. Yes, Obama will ask Germany to lead in Europe and beyond. He'll appeal to our responsibility, to our shared values and to the trust that has been built over six decades of transatlantic cooperation and how fundamental it is to freedom (and to all the other buzzwords). He will - hopefully - say a few nice words about our troops in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but probably ignore (or gloss over) PRISM and other controversial issues. Instead he will talk about the wonderful possibilities of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) and how it will lead to growth, strengthen our bonds and global influence and reinforce our values etc.

Obama will reassure Germany of America's continued support and solidarity, because he knows that Germans are concerned about America's pivot (balancing) to Asia and have complained that he has not visited us in his first term. [Oh, we crave so much attention and ignore that Obama has been to Europe eleven times since assuming the presidency, incl. three times to Germany. It has been my long position that Obama would have come to Berlin earlier and worked more with us, if we had make concrete suggestions for revitalized transatlantic cooperation rather than just photo-ops at various summits.]

Instead of turning his speech into a love fest for German-American relations, he should give some tough love. German citizens and politicians need a dose to understand where the United States is headed and what responsibilities Europe now has in its neighborhood.

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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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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:

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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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Interview about Obama's Nomination of John Brennan

Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster, interviewed me about John Brennan and his nomination for CIA Director. The article is available in various languages, including Arabic, Turkish, German, Albanian and Chinese, because my opinion about the CIA is so super important that folks need to read it in their mother tongue. ;-) Not In English though.

My argument was in a nutshell that Brennan is a good choice for CIA Director because he worked for the agency in the operative and analytical divisions, has Middle East expertise, and is close to Obama. Better than a politician or a general.

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Russia as a Real Partner?

Putin and Obama have a fundamental choice to make in their new terms: Continue "their transactional approach to relations" or "put relations in a broader, longer-term strategic framework, which could foster more enduring constructive relations." Thomas E. Graham of Kissinger Associates and Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, write in the New York Times "Why the Reset Should Be Reset"

While I would not hold my breath that it will happen in 2013, the authors make some good arguments about common long term interests:

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The Next Big Transatlantic Project: A Free Trade Area Plus

The rising economies in Asia and South America have been hyped for many years in the US and European media. Now, finally, there is a renewed focus on transatlantic free trade because the United States and the European Union "remain the anchor of the global economy. Together, they produce more than 50 percent of the world's gross domestic product and account for almost 30 percent of global trade. Europe buys three times more U.S. products than China, and European investment in California alone is greater than all U.S. investment in China and Japan put together."

Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former deputy secretary of the Treasury, and Daniel S. Hamilton of Johns Hopkins University, describe how the new Trans-Atlantic Partnership could look like:

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