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The Increasing Importance of the Transatlantic Alliance

"The transatlantic alliance is likely to become more relevant as new powers rise." That is the conclusion of the report "The Transatlantic Alliance in a Multipolar World" (pdf) by Thomas Wright and Richard Weitz, which was just published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The most interesting argument in the report is IMHO: "The future appears likely to bring multipolarity without multilateralism. It will thus fall to the United States and Europe to act as a convenor of like-minded countries to ensure that the integrity and effectiveness of the international order is preserved."

This is of great relevance because:

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Afghanistan: The Huge "If"

"U.N. sees progress for Afghanistan in 2009" is UPI's headline for an article by its correspondent Daniel Graeber.

It turns out, however, that a qualifier is missing in that headline. After all the article is based on a big "If" in a quote by Kai Eide, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan:

If we can manage to strengthen the positive work now under way, and implement what we have agreed on, if additional troops can bring the insurgency on the defensive and if we can hold elections that have the credibility required to be accepted by the population at large, then 2009 could well be a turning point,

That's a huge "if," isn't it? Have you seen bigger "ifs" recently? Are you optimistic of pessimistic regarding Afghanistan's future?

John McCain's League of Democracies

Senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has repeated his calls for a 'league of democracies' in a Financial Times op-ed directed at Europe.
We need to renew and revitalise our democratic solidarity. We need to strengthen our transatlantic alliance as the core of a new global compact – a League of Democracies – that can harness the great power of the more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.

At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. We Americans recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we must pay “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.

The words about respect and trust are welcome. However, the idea of a leage of democracies is also likely to run into some opposition among America's European allies. The reasons McCain gives for his league of democracies, both in the FT and in a May 2007 speech reported on in the Washington Post, have much to do with America's perceived national interest. On issues like confronting the 'turn towards autocracy' in Russia, 'acting where the UN fails to act' on a problem like Darfur and providing 'unimpeded market access' to open market democracies, continental Europe has completely different perceived interests.

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Germany Will Not Participate in New Darfur Peacekeeping Mission

Finally, four years, 200.000 dead and 2.5 Mio refugees after the atrocities begun, the UN has decided on a resolution for sending peacekeepers to Darfur. So far, France, Denmark and Indonesia have promised to contribute to the mission. “Britain said it would consider a request to contribute but would not send ground forces,” according to the International Herald Tribune  – notwithstanding the fact that its new prime minister, Gordon Brown, has called the conflict “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today.”
Several countries — including Italy, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, Thailand, and South Africa — said they had not made a decision yet. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the country would send a small number of doctors and nurses, but no troops or security personnel, given its existing commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands.
China made no immediate response, though its special envoy on Darfur said in June that his country would seriously consider sending peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, Spiegel International reports:
Germany, while welcoming the plan, has decided not to contribute troops to the mission, saying that its military is already overstretched by other foreign peacekeeping operations, primarily in Afghanistan and Kosovo. German newspapers also hailed the peacekeeping plan, but some wondered if in its current form it could really bring an end to the carnage.
Read some skeptical excerpts from all sides of the political spectrum in English at Spiegel International

A few Bundeswehr troops are active in Sudan, according to another Spiegel article:
German soldiers are participating in two missions in Sudan at present. As many as 200 soldiers from the German military, the Bundeswehr, are providing logistical support under the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) mandate. They are mainly responsible for transportation flights. An additional 38 German military observers are currently in Sudan under the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) mandate.

Still Deadly: World War II Bombs, Modern Cluster Bombs, Landmines and Small Arms

When a war ends, the killing continues. "More than six decades after the end of World War II, Germans still routinely come across unexploded bombs lurking beneath farmer's fields or city streets." writes Mark Landler in the International Herald Tribune (Hat Tip: Clarence):
Lately, there has been a skein of such dangerous discoveries here, one with deadly consequences.  On Monday [October 24, 2006], a highway worker was killed when his cutting machine struck a World War II bomb beneath a main autobahn southeast of Frankfurt, setting off an explosion that ripped apart the vehicle and wrecked several passing cars, injuring their occupants. Hours later, a weapons-removal squad defused a 225-kilogram, or 500- pound, bomb found next to a highway near Hannover. The police said the device was a British aerial bomb - one of tens of thousands dropped on German roads, factories, and cities during Allied bombing raids. 
Last week, 22,000 people were evacuated from a district of Hannover after three bombs were discovered near a house. It was the second-largest evacuation for a disposal operation since the end of the war.
Construction workers in Berlin come across such bombs very often as well: Surrounding areas get evacuated and the bomb squads diffuse the bombs. There are hardly ever any casualties. People in other former war zones around the world are not as lucky, but get killed, lose arms or legs or suffer from other serious injuries due to unexploded cluster bombs or landmines. The Scotsman trusts a Reuters report that claims:
Between August 14 and October 8, around 20 people were killed in southern Lebanon by cluster munitions. Land mine activists said last month that cluster bombs are still killing or injuring three to four civilians a day, a third of them children. (...) Cluster bombs burst into bomblets and spread out near the ground. While some aim to destroy tanks, others are designed to kill or maim humans over a wide area. Experts have estimated an unusually high 40 percent of the bomblets dropped on Lebanon failed to explode on impact. Around 115 people have been injured by bomblets since the war's end.
Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of Los Angeles' Jewish Journal criticizes the "Cluster Silence." The Christian Science Monitor published a call to abolish cluster bombs by Amnesty International USA.
Continue reading "Still Deadly: World War II Bombs, Modern Cluster Bombs, Landmines and Small Arms"

Majority of Americans: Reform or Replace the United Nations

"A majority of Americans (57%) now believe the United Nations should be scrapped and replaced if it cannot be reformed and made more effective", according to a telephone poll conducted on behalf of the Hudson Institute:
75% believe the UN is no longer "effective" and "needs to be held more accountable."
71% believe the UN "needs to be considerably reformed."
67% believe "there are too many undemocratic nations in the UN that do not care about promoting democracy and freedom."
Nobody doubts the need for reform, but there are strong disagreements among the member countries about how to do so. To support more cooperation among the democracies in the world, the Community of Democracies should be strengthened, but I am not aware of any serious efforts to strengthen this forum founded in 2000. The United Nations, however, cannot and should not limit its membership to democracies. The UN is not an alliance like NATO, but has a different purpose. Besides, you don't make peace with your friends, but with your enemies.
The Foreign Policy blog writes:
The poll confirms that since 9/11, Americans have become more skeptical of the global body. Fifty-two percent of respondents feel more unfavorable toward the United Nations and just 27 percent feel more favorable. (...) A plurality—44 to 37 percent—feels that the United Nations generally opposes U.S. interests. (...) The poll, though, is far from all bad news for those who support greater U.S. engagement with the United Nations. A whopping 73 percent favor the United States taking a "a more active role in the UN" as it is "the best way for us to influence world affairs."

Experts: U.S. is not winning the war on terror

Foreign Policy Magazine has asked more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy experts.
A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index's experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans. Overall, they agree that the U.S. government is falling short in its homeland security efforts. (...) “Foreign-policy experts have never been in so much agreement about an administration’s performance abroad,” says Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and an index participant. “The reason is that it’s clear to nearly all that Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force.” (...) The experts also said that recent reforms of the national security apparatus have done little to make Americans safer. (...)
Eighty-one percent, for instance, believe the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, negatively affects the war on terror. The index’s experts also disapprove of how America is handling its relations with European allies, how it is confronting threatening regimes in North Korea and Iran, how it is controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and its dealings with failing states, to name just a few. “We are losing the war on terror because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” says index participant Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. (...)
Since Germany is often criticized for its relatively small defense budget, this might be interesting:
To win the battle of ideas, the experts say, America must place a much higher emphasis on its nonmilitary tools. More than two thirds say that U.S. policymakers must strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. At the same time, the experts indicate that the U.S. government must think more creatively about threats. Asked what presents the single greatest danger to U.S. national security, nearly half said loose nukes and other weapons of mass destruction, while just one third said al Qaeda and terrorism, and a mere 4 percent said Iran.
The section on With Friends Like These:
Asked to name the country that has produced the largest number of global terrorists, the index’s foreign-policy experts pointed to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan—three of America’s marquee allies in the Muslim world.

Iran's Nuclear Program: Germany, the U.S. and the Search for a Diplomatic Solution

U.S., German and other politicians have urged the Bush administration to participate in direct negotiations with Iran. Now the Houston Chronicle has some good breaking news to report:
In a major policy shift, the United States said Wednesday it is prepared to join other nations in holding direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program if Iran first agrees to stop disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb. "To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the State Department.
On Sunday Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister from 1998-2005, expressed his concern that time is running out for a diplomatic solution. Writing for the Washington Post, he explains why the European negotiations with Iran failed and why the U.S. has to offer security guarantees in harmonized direct negotiations with Iran. The Iranian Kaveh Afrasiabi is skeptical, but praises Germany's critical role in the Iran negotiations. Following are some quotes from both: Continue reading "Iran's Nuclear Program: Germany, the U.S. and the Search for a Diplomatic Solution"