Mittwoch, 24. September 2008

The Surprising Collateral Damage of the Georgian Crisis: Nonproliferation



Over the past weeks and months observers, analysts and strategists have been unusually busy. The Georgian crisis, faltering relations between Russia and the West, the collapse of the world's leading banking corporations, a looming global recession and the American presidential elections have headed the international agenda. But was there not another major crisis that was about to bring the world onto the verge of another war? Machmud Ahmadinejads speech at the United Nations' General Assembly (and his odd appearence at Larry King) have reminded the world that there still is a conflict that the international community should worry about. Not least because Ahmadinejad was seen more often on TV lately than Sarah Palin it is time for the world to focus on Iran again. The E3 (Germany, France, and the UK) and Russia, China and the US were supposed to meet at the sidelines of the current proceedings at the United Nations to agree on a future course vis-á-vis Iran, notably on how to beef up the "vegetarian sanctions" (as Israeli scholar Efraim Inbar called them) after the latest IAEA report again showed how urgently the international community needs to find a firm stance on Teheran. The Kremlin, however, seems to regard these talks as a golden opportunity to engage in a tit for tat diplomacy and says it would pull out of these talks, although one is left wondering what exactly it wants to take revenge for after Moscow invaded Georgia proper, recognised South Ossetia and Abkhasia and sent strategic bombers and navy vessels to Latin America. The thing is, in doing so Russia undermines non-proliferation policy (something one should assume Moscow has a stake in) and simply acts irresponsible.

Samstag, 20. September 2008

Mainstreet in Bratislava




From the 17th to 19th September I attended a conference in Bratislava on the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, the Slovak and Czech Republic) security perceptions, which was designed to foster a consensus on whether the Visegrad states should develop a common security identity within NATO. The conference ended with no agreement, but it was fun. On the 19th, the foreign ministers of Poland and the Slovak Republic were also attending the conference and were having their own little panel on security perceptions of the Eastern European countries. I was the only German in the room, when the Polish foreign minister Skikorski suddenly said: "Let me reassure you, we have no intention of invading Germany." A relief of some sorts, but though that caught me off guard, it was even more fun, when the Slovakian forein minister Jan Kibus gave his presentation. During his speech I suddenly heard the James Bond theme. While the theme got louder, Skikorski - kind of James Bond character anyway - pulled out his mobile and switched it off and the music was gone. Efraim Inbar, of the Besa Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel characterised the European sanctions against Iran as "vegetarian" and the wine in Matysak-hotel is really tasty.

Samstag, 13. September 2008

The Future is Wide Open



Vor einigen Jahren war ich im Bundestag. Ich war in einen Fahrstuhl hineingehuscht und es rief Friedbert Pflüger, man möge den Fahrstuhl aufhalten. Kurz nach mir, war eine junge Praktikantin in den Fahrstuhl gestiegen und Friedbert Pflüger, seinerzeit der CDU-Mann für die Außenpolitik im Deutschen Bundestag stellte sich uns im Fahrstuhl vor. Mir gegenüber eher hastig, der jungen Kollegin aber etwas hingebungsvoller und bat sie sogleich, ihn doch in die nächste Fraktionssitzung zu begleiten. Derlei Geschichten, so erfuhr ich während meines mehrere Wochen andauernden Intermezzos in Berlin, könne so mancher berichten.
Nun hat Friedbert Pflüger die politische Bühne Berlins verlassen. Als letzter Hoffnungsschimmer der Berliner Landes-CDU hatte er versucht, die Partei vor Werten zu bewahren, die andere Christdemokraten nur aus Umfragen über die SPD kannten, allein die Berliner CDU wollte nicht so recht und war sich selbst genug. Das ist schade, nur eines aber bleibt hängen: Als Pflüger nach seiner Abwahl vor die Presse trat, berichtete er nicht viel - das meiste sagte ohnehin seine Miene - aber er brachte seine Haltung auf den Punkt: Er habe eine Wahl verloren, nicht seine Selbstachtung.
Diese Worte sind von einer staatstragenden Klarheit, dass man vergessen könnte, dass Pflüger nur der Vorsitzender einer Fraktion im Abgeordnetenhaus ist. Vor allem aber steht dieser Abgang in krassem Gegensatz zu dem anderen Abgang der letzten Tage, dem von Kurt Beck, der es selbst bei seinem Abschied von der Bundesbühne nicht vermocht hat, klare Worte zu sprechen. Für die Berliner CDU gilt, und das deutlich mehr als für die Bundes-SPD, das der wahre Wert von manchem erst zu schätzen gewußt wird, wenn er nicht mehr in Reichweite ist.

Last Weeks Walk in the Park


Freitag, 12. September 2008

Waving Farewell to Imperial Russia

Drawing parallels between the cases of South Ossetia and the Kosovo may be illuminating, if it is being conducted to explain the differences. The more illuminating historical comparison is made by last weeks Economist. A telling comparison between Russians past and Soviet posture and its recent intervention in Georgia is more to the mark: "But what Russia may come to regret losing most is something Mr Putin longs for: the opportunity to become an accepted European power. He likes to skip over communism's mistakes and dwell on Russia's tsarist grandeur. But what did for both was imperial overstretch, a rotten economy and like Russia's today, a mostly unaccountable ruling caste that led a proud country to disaster."
It is regrettable that the Kremlin doesn't pay for good historians, otherwise they would not have taken their tit for tat policy to the next level and deployed their Soviet-era Tupolev strategic bombers to Venezuela. With gas exploration reaching its peak in Russia, the country is now reasserting its place on the world stage, although it, like their Tupolevs in Venezuela, began with their initial descent.


Sonntag, 7. September 2008

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

Today Kurt Beck, chairman of the German Social Democrats, resigned the chairmanship. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, and Fanz Müntefering ("Münte"), the old chairman will return to his post and lead the Social Democrats into the next general election in 2009. Its certainly good news for the party and Germany at all. One final note on Beck: even as he left he did not take the opportunity to make a strong statement. His final note has been as vague as his entire term as chairman. At literally no point did he lead his party, he always followed it and apparently he had absolute no idea as to where to lead this nation. Although the party could be back on track now, there are a couple of consequences that the SPD needs to tackle.



First of all, the appointment of foreign minister Steinmeier to the party's candidate for federal chancellor and Franz Müntefering's prospective election as party chair have implications for the election of the President of Germany later this year. With Kurt Beck as party chairman most believed that the party would take the votes of the radical left wing party Die Linke to elect the SPD's candidate Gesine Schwan, even though most Germans wouldn't approve of that and even though it would have alsmost certainly hurt the party with the general election next year. This now seems to be an unlikely scenario. The SPD now needs to make a decision on the future of its candidate and whether to withdraw the nomination. Todays decision is hence good news for Germany's presidential incumbent, Horst Köhler, who is running for re-election.
Secondly, the party needs to decide on how to integrate the left wing of the Social Democrats. With Müntefering as party chairman, Steinmeier as their candidate for chancellor and Peter Struck as leader of the Social Democrats in parliament, the conservative wing is now leading the entire party and left-wing members have virtually no representative left in the upper party echelons. The party will have to find a way to introduce a left-wing representative in one of its top-spots.

Samstag, 6. September 2008

Steinmeier: Der Zufallskandidat



Steinmeier hat sich also im parteiinternen Ringen durchgesetzt und wird Kanzlerkandidat der SPD und hat damit die Führungsrolle in der SPD von Kurt Beck übernommen. Nicht wenige in der SPD hoffen, dass das nun der Befreiungsschlag ist, mit dem die deutsche Sozialdemokratie sich aus dem Umfragetief herauskämpfen kann. Doch wer so lange braucht, um einen so windelweichen und führungsunwilligen Parteivorsitzenden wie Kurt Beck die Kanzlerkandidatur zu nehmen, kann von dem ernsthaft ein Wahlsieg erwartet werden? Das Schröder-Lager hat Steinmeier gemahnt, endlich die Kandidatur zu verlangen und sie nicht von Becks Gnaden anzunehmen. Steinmeiers politisches Leben ist geprägt von den Umständen, die dazu geführt haben, dass es irgendwie immer auf ihn hinauslief, der Kompromiß eben, der kleinste gemeinsame Nenner der Sozialdemokratie. Das hat ihn zu zweierlei gemacht: Er ist gleichzeitig der Kandidat des Zufalls und der unausweichliche Kandidat. Und gerade diese eigenartige Kombination macht es so schwer einzuschätzen, ob er überhaupt eine Chance hat, die Wahlen zu gewinnen.
Steinmeier wurde, drastisch formuliert, Kanzlerkandidat im Ausschlußverfahren: Beck konnte die SPD einfach niemanden zumuten, Münte war gerade weg und Landesfürsten mit Bundesambitionen gibt es nicht, schon allein weil es kaum Landesfürsten gibt. Für eine Partei, die sich gerade im Auflösungsverfahren befindet, ist das ein Weg zur Macht, gegen den Machtwillen der Kanzlerin wird es aber nicht reichen. Steinmeiers Aufstieg könnte der SPD ein wenig Vorsprung vor der Linkspartei in den Umfragen garantieren und damit im Bundestag die Mehrheiten für ein rot-rot-grünes Bündnis schaffen, nur wird er sich daran kaum beteiligen wollen. Die politische Dynamik aber kann er nur verändern, wenn er keinen Wahlkampf gegen die CDU führt, sondern gegen die Linkspartei. Und dann ist da noch die Erwartungshaltung an Steinmeier: Während sich die SPD in freiem Fall befand, Ypsilanti parteischädigendes Verhalten zur Räson erhob und Kurt Beck sich entschied der Partei hinterherzulaufen, anstatt sie zu führen wuchs die Erwartungshaltung an den Kanzlerkandidaten und die Frage drängt sich auf: Kann er überhaupt noch diese hohe Hürde nehmen und was ist, wenn er es nicht schafft, denn die Probleme der SPD bleiben ja. Am Ende hat er möglicherweise zu lange gezögert.

Freitag, 5. September 2008

Malaysians to the front



When the United Nations Security Council back in June voted to allow countries to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia, Germany withdrew its last frigate patrolling the Horn of Africa. It was a coincidence, as German officials would maintain, but a revaeling one. Now, while the European Union is preparing its mission to fight piracy in one of the world's most important chokepoints and Berlin announced to contribute to the mission, its Malaysia that is first to take action. After three tankers belonging to the Malaysian shpping company MISC Berhad were seized by pirates in August 2008 alone, the Malaysian government acted swiftly and deployed no less than three warships to the region. Ever heard of the Kuala Lumpur headline goal? No? Of course not, but if Europe wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, it should at least act as quickly as Malaysia. So far, a long way to go.

Donnerstag, 4. September 2008

Its War - Isn't it? Germany's odd Debate on its Engagement in Afghanistan

Its an odd debate that unfolded in Germany yesterday. The Bundeswehrverband, the association of soliders fighting in the German armed forces, called upon the government to admit that Germany is at war in Afghanistan against the Taleban. For Germans its a big deal to go to war, and no government wants to go down in history with a record of having taken the country to its first war since World War II. But one should not be casual about the mission of Germans in Afghanistan: Former defense minister Peter Struck once said that Germany was defended at the Hindukush and the mission began after NATO declared an article V situation, after the twin towers fell in New York on 9/11. Of course, Germany is at war. And it should begin to take up the fight, because this country is fighting a war that it cannot afford to lose.
Meanwhile it is becoming increasingly clear that Berlin will have to take a decision on the future of its engagement in Afghanistan. It will ultimately have to alter its stance due to three major factors: First, Germany has deployed more troops to Afghanistan than other NATO countries, hoping to circumvent pressure from Washington to send troops to Iraq. If this rationale is to continue, national caveats might prove to be counterproductive. The mission is becoming increasingly defined by risk and less by success; if Berlin is to avoid the risk its troops would face in Iraq by sending them to Afghanistan, it might eventually have to put them into harms way.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the military situation simply calls for scaling up engagement. NATO has already requested more troops in the run-up to NATO's summit in Bucharest. If NATO members, and therefore Germany, do not commit more troops, al-Qaeda and the Taleban might find it easier to penetrate the entire country. To put it differently, if Germany does not give a helping hand in defeating the Taleban in the South, it will end up facing them in the North they have considered safe for so long.
Third, German politicians' efforts to describe the Bundeswehr's mission to Afghanistan as armed development assistance might have worked in the past years but certainly aggravate the necessity of explaining a German combat role in the future. Germans are beginning to wonder, whether their government has been over its head or simply misjudged the situation: Has the scope of the mission been bigger than they've been told immediately after 2001 or did the situation deteriorate despite Germany's engagement? If the latter happens to be the case, why should more troops make a difference? And if the scope of mission has really been bigger, why has the mission been characterised as armed development assistance in the first place? Either way, the political elite of Germany has a lot of explaining to do in the next months but with general elections scheduled for 2009 they are increasingly unwilling to do so, but shifting strategic realities on the ground and allied casualties might make a change in strategy and public stance inevitable.
What is striking is that Germany's politicians have not yet made the case for an expanded German commitment to Afghanistan. The war is by no means lost, the number of casualties has been comparatively low and although the situation might get tougher, what is needed at this juncture is not an exit strategy but rather vision and commitment. The army might be on duty abroad, German politicans still have to get it.

Mittwoch, 3. September 2008

The Syrian Bid

The Middle East is changing. It did not change as rapidly as expected when U.S.-President George W. Bush first introduced the Greater Middle East Initiative, but it does change. Today it appears as if President Bush initiated a chain-reaction by removing Saddam Hussein in Iraq and calling for democracy in the region. Slowly this strategy begins to pay off: Saudi-Arabia introduced democratic reforms on a regional level, Iraq is stabilised and embarks on a path of sustainable democratic development, and Lebanon is struggling to assert democratic reform. The most important change, however, takes place in Syria, where president Bashar al-Assad introduced a couple of painstaking reforms that are certainly difficult to accept for the Syrian establishment, but could break the cycle of violence in the Middle East. Apparently, Bashar al-Assad forced Hamas chief Chalid Meschal to leave his asylum in Damascus and allegedly urged him to re-locate to the Sudan. This is another major step in Assad's bid to change Syrian foreign policy. Bashar al-Assad serves as president of Syria since 2000, when his father died. Ever since Syrian foreign policy has not exactly been coherent; observers were wondering where the country is headed. In 2003 politicians in the United States considered Syria as the second military target after Bagdad. But now, Syria is engaging in peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and calling for direct talks with Tel Aviv. It established formal relations with Lebanon and is now cutting ties to Hamas. Bashar al-Assad is, after all, a pragmatic autocrat who's interests are not being served by close ties with Teheran. Gradually, Assad seems to make a significant turn-around. In historic perspective it might be one of the windfalls of the Greater Middle East Initiative.


Dienstag, 2. September 2008

Somaliland

Somaliland has been waiting for international recognition for years now, although it is in much better shape administratively than many other internationally recognised states in Sub-Sahara Africa. Some international actors are eager to see Somaliland recognised, among them the United States and Great Britain, but fear they might create a second Eritrea or set a precedent for other secessionist movements throughout the continent. Nonetheless, Voice of America recently aired a very interesting report on the tiny country that made so much progress and receives so little attention.