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Accepting Our Limits Makes for a Stronger Alliance

I was part of a group of 59 politicians, scholars, and other observers invited to take part in the Atlantic Council and Foreign Policy Magazine's survey on the future of NATO. It was an honor to participate in this survey and a good opportunity for reflection as well as to think about some big questions.

In addition to 28 multiple choice questions, we were asked to complete four sentences and I believe there is a common theme in my answers:

NATO today is... the best "insurance policy" we have to remain free and secure, when (not if) we are once again surprised by a new threat.

NATO's biggest mistake in the past 10 years has been... giving up the light footprint policy in Afghanistan in 2003. We have since expended huge investment in the country out of proportion to our achieved objectives or the level of threat that Afghanistan poses.

NATO's mission in Afghanistan is... an important reminder of our limited capabilities for state and nation-building as well as for big expeditionary out-of-area missions.

The biggest problem with NATO today is... the constant pressure from many politicians and pundits to prove its relevance beyond the Article 5 guarantee.

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Young Atlanticism

Two years ago, European Commission President Barroso called for a more dynamic transatlantic relationship based on results rather than process. Speaking at the German Marshall Funds' Brussels Forum he said "We must go beyond traditional Atlanticism and build a new Atlanticism." (Video)

It was one of those grandiose speeches that resulted into applause, but nothing else. N_o_t_h_i_n_g ! I assume that Barroso and his staff only worked on the speech, but not on any initiative to actually build a new Atlanticism.

I believe it is really up to a new generation to revive Atlanticism. Will they (we) succeed? Hard to say. While I am generally pessimistic (realistic), I do feel optimistic once in a while, like right now, when I read Transatlanticism: From a Political to a Social Identity It's a sober-minded, realistic analysis, which criticizes the sort of hollow expressions of transatlantic solidarity and values that I see in Barroso's speech, but it also ends with a positive outlook. The author, Kristin Durant, is President of the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association, and wrote this great op-ed for atlantic-community, my day job.

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Top Five: Americans who rocked Berlin

Many Americans have rocked huge crowds in Berlin. Here are videos of John F. Kennedy in June 1963, Ronald Reagan in June 1987, Bruce Springsteen in July 1988, and Barack Obama in July 2008.

Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan spoke in West-Berlin and stressed America's solidarity and commitment to freedom.

Bruce Springsteen performed his political songs in East-Berlin, the biggest rock concert the GDR had seen. When the Berlin Wall fell a year later, President George Bush senior was not a loud rock star, which would have been inappropriate and added insult to injury to the Soviet Union. (Poking a wounded super power in free fall would have been dangerous.).

Senator Obama was greeted like a rock star when he spoke in Berlin during his presidential campaign. Berliners longed to hear his message of hope and change after the disappointment in America caused by the Bush junior presidency.

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Some Good News for a Change: Afghanistan's Pop Idol

The Taliban had banned music and 99% of everything else that is fun. Now, an Afghan version of the "American Idol" called "Afghan Star" has been broadcasted for seven seasons. Millions are watching and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. A documentary from 2009 follows "the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation's favorite singer."

Watch the latest show from this week: 

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Transatlantic Unity on Marijuana

American and German Youtube users are most interested in asking their respective heads of government about the legalization of marijuana. This seems to be another indication that US and German social media users think much more alike than the political elites do. I am disappointed that more important questions are much less popular.

Last week, Chancellor Merkel responded on the government's Youtube channel to ten questions from citizens. She responded negatively to this questions about the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana which had received the most votes on Youtube:

Wie stehen Sie zur Forderung, den bestehenden Schwarzmarkt für Cannabis durch einen regulierten Markt mit Jugend- und Verbraucherschutz (Kontrolle von Qualität und THC-Gehalt) zu ersetzen und mehr Suchtprävention über Cannabissteuern zu finanzieren?

For Merkel it was the first Youtube Q&A, while President Obama has been conducting three YouTube question-and-answer sessions already. According to CBS News, the session in January 2011 was "as always" dominated by marijuana:

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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.

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Europe Does Not Need American Protection Anymore

NATO does very good work every day, but it is "a bit of an anachronism." 9/11 has accelerated the divergence of European and American geostrategic interests. Europe does not need American protection anymore, with the exception of the nuclear guarantee, says Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

He gave an excellent and forthright speech at the Heinrich Boell Foundation's Annual Foreign Policy Conference on the transatlantic security architecture and European defense efforts.

I very much agree with his description of European mainstream perceptions of and positions on security. At a time when so many US journalists and pundits are questioning the relevance of NATO and express their increasing disappointment with the Europeans, I would like to recommend the ten minute video below to better understand why most European countries are not spending more on defense and do not send more troops to US led wars.

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Europe's Contributions to Afghanistan Should be Recognized

Four Bundeswehr soldiers were killed in three attacks in Afghanistan's North in the last two weeks. Two in three Germans want their country to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. The German government, however, stays the course. (Focus Magazine in German.)

Why? Because of a threat from Afghanistan to Germany? No, Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not need a safe haven at the Hindu Kush, but can plan terrorist attacks in Hamburg etc. As Ahmed Rashid notes, "not ever, has an Afghan Talib been involved in global jihad."

Rather, we have invested so much in Afghanistan, that we cannot afford to see it all fail. Moreover, we are still in Afghanistan after nine years as a matter of solidarity with NATO and especially with the United States due to the 9/11 attacks.

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